Court is back in session for law firm Newton & Randolph

Welcome to the Newton and Randolph Law office. They are synonymous with business. Unlike avocados, however, they stand over six feet tall and weigh around 300 pounds.

And they’re coming for your quarterback.

The second defensive line tandem Keith Randolph Jr. and Jer Zhan Newton burst onto the Illini defense scene last season under defensive coordinator Ryan Walters after never having had frequent playing time since arriving in Champaign.

Despite this limited experience, the head coach Bret Bielema put his faith in the underclass D linemen, and it was he who coined the duo’s “law firm” mantra.

“I’m still working. I do extra work every day, so for him to think of me like that, I feel like that was a big step for me,” Newton said. “It brought more attention to my name, and I have to play with that name, so I really appreciate Coach B for that.”

That partnership has since blossomed into a solid friendship both on and off the pitch, but the pair didn’t immediately click.

Newton says he thought Randolph was “a pretty boy” when they first met, while Randolph questioned Newton’s hairstyle. Although their chemistry is strong now, their friendship started and grew coincidentally, as they frequently met at the football training facilities, getting extra reps.

“When he first came here I was in sophomore year, two different shifts, really didn’t talk much. Then COVID came along,” Randolph said. “We really didn’t talk much and then over the summer of last year we tried to get closer and closer with the change in coaching staff. Sometimes I would come to the facilities late on evening and he was there, or he ‘d go up and I was there.

“We just noticed that we’re still here together, still trying to improve in some way. We just started hanging out, getting really close.”

Randolph and Newton reaped the benefits of a coaching change, and it resulted in career-best campaigns. After playing nine games combined in his first two years at Illinois, Randolph has seen the field in 10 contests in 2021 and has made seven starts. He also recorded 42 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one interception and 4.0 sacks.

Despite finishing the 2020 season relatively low on the depth chart, Randolph says his work throughout the offseason has played a big part in earning more playing time under Bielema.

“It’s been a long, long road for me playing football,” Randolph said. “At the beginning of this year, in the spring, I was like a three or four on the depth chart. I just put my head down, just worked and worked. I worked very hard in the offseason, so I knew something had to come out of this one, so it all worked out.”

That off-season work earned an All-Big Ten honorable mention from the media last season, and Randolph was named to the third team of all Athlon Sports preseason conferences prior to the opener. of this year.

Newton played in all eight games as a true freshman in the COVID-19-shortened season, despite only making two starts at defensive tackle.

He exploded onto the scene in 2021, starting in 11 of Fighting Illini’s 12 matches. The Florida native recorded 50 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks, all of which are career highs, and he was recognized by the media with an All-Big Ten honorable mention following his sophomore college season .

Now selected to the fourth team of all preseason conferences by Athlon Sports, Newton says he never expected to play such a big role in an otherwise older defensive unit, but he was happy to see his work. hard to be recognized and rewarded.

“Throughout training I always did a lot of reps,” Newton said. “It was not planned. I thought it would be half and half, but I still want to make plays and help the defense as much as possible, so I appreciated it.”

The pair are now closer than ever and the law firm are back for another season in the second year of defensive coordinator Ryan Walters‘ system. Although Newton still thinks Randolph is a pretty boy, Randolph says he “quietly likes” Newton’s hair, and the pair are ready to get back in the trenches.

Randolph and Newton are off to a strong start to their 2022 campaigns. Newton has 11 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sacks and three quarterbacks rushed, while Randolph has 10 total tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in two games. Newton ranked among the best defensemen in the nation at Indiana, leading the nation in pressures (9) and QB hits (5).

The court is back in session.

“We got so close,” Randolph said. “We hang around a lot more, and now I know his strengths, his weaknesses; he knows mine. I just feel like when you know that much about a person on the pitch, it’s only right to be that close to the ground as well.”

Denise W. Whigham