After a year away from the game, Rueben Randle is ready to get back to playing football.
Randle, who helped Bastrop High to three straight Class 4A state titles and a state semifinal appearance from 2005-08, is in the area this weekend to conduct his yearly football camp. He visited with the youth at the Liberty Healthcare Systems Children's Hospital on Eugene Ware Road in Bastrop on Friday, and will oversee Saturday's camp at Sterlington High School. As always, the football/dance clinic is sponsored by the Rueben Randle Foundation at no charge to the youth.
For Randle, the past year was unlike any other. Drafted as the No. 63 overall pick (2nd round) by the New York Giants out of LSU in 2012, Randle caught 188 passes for 2,664 yards (14.1 yards per catch) and 20 touchdown in four seasons. Signed by the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent after four seasons in the Meadowlands, Randle was cut during the preseason.
Coming off of a solid 2015 campaign (57 receptions, 797 yards, 8 TDs) in his final season with the Giants, Randle suddenly found himself out of football.
"That is something I had never experienced before," Randle said. "I tried to be professional about it. It's a business. I've learned not to take it too personally, anymore."
Randle worked out for several teams over the course of the season, including the Saints, but never signed. Meanwhile, he tried to use his time constructively.
"Sitting out was tough," Randle admitted. "I tried to use the time to my advantage and let my body heal up. I was rehabbing (a knee injury) in Houston for a couple of months, trying to get stronger."
While concussions have been at the forefront of any discussions regarding NFL-related injuries in recent years, the wear and tear that professional football players endure is largely overlooked.
"I definitely didn't give it much thought as a kid growing up," said Randle, who also played baseball, basketball and ran track over the course of his high school athletic career. "After a while, all the sports — the running and jumping — take a toll on your body. Now, I try to recuperate and stay physically ready as much as possible."
Randle never got away from football over the past year. But rather than playing, he spent his Sunday's watching football on TV.
"I was rehabbing and watching football all year long," Randle said. "I tried to support the guys I know."
There was a positive side to having some extra time.
"This was the first time that I have been able to spend a lot of time with my family," Randle said.
Randle finally found an open door in January, signing a reserve/future contract with the Chicago Bears. Randle sees it as the perfect opportunity to revive his NFL career.
"I wanted to go somewhere where everybody was going to give me an opportunity from the coaching staff to the people upstairs in the front office," Randle said. "I wanted to play where everyone wanted me there as opposed to a place where you are banging your head against the wall. That's one of the main reasons I chose Chicago."
Joining the Bears for offseason workouts, Randle was excited to be part of a team again.
"OTAs and mini-camp went real well," Randle said. "It was good to finally be back on the football field again. I am excited to get a chance to compete and earn my role with the team."
Though not on the 53-man roster going into camp, Randle says he is ready to seize the opportunity.
"As long as I stay healthy, I feel like my possibilities are pretty good," Randle said. "I am confident in myself, and looking forward to taking advantage of the opportunity. It's an opportunity to continue to play. I just want to do the best I can, and see how it goes from there."
At 26, Randle realizes time is starting to run short.
"I don't see this as a last chance, but I know the opportunities are going to start coming slower and slower," Randle said. "I just have to do what I have to do to stay in this league."
Eventually, Randle plans to finish his degree in sports administration from LSU. Having left college after his junior season, he is still a year away from graduating.
"My mom (Troye Randle) stays on me about finishing my degree," Randle said.
For the moment, his number one priority is making the Bears' roster.
"My focus is on what I have to do now for my future," Randle said.