Randall Mackey, Ole Miss’ well-traveled senior, returns to Louisiana for LSU game

Truth be told, Randall Mackey never wanted to be a quarterback.

Which is kind of strange, when you consider that while playing the position, he led Bastrop to three straight state championships; as a senior was Louisiana’s “Mr. Football” and a Parade All-American; was rated the No. 11 dual-threat prep QB in the nation; was rated the country’s No. 5 junior college player at East Mississippi College, where he led the nation in passing; and last season started six games at quarterback for Ole Miss.

But then again, everything has been a long, strange football odyssey for Mackey, one that’s nearing its end with the Rebels’ game Saturday against LSU in Tiger Stadium.

It’s taken him from Port Sulphur, where he and his family lost their home in Hurricane Katrina, to almost 300 miles away in Bastrop, a move that brought charges of illegal recruiting that resulted in the team being stripped of its 2005 state championship, to junior college because of academic deficiencies, to Ole Miss, where he was the rare junior college redshirt in 2010 after the Rebels landed transfer Jeremiah Masoli from Oregon for one season, to twice being suspended last year, which cost him three games — including the one against LSU — and to playing a multi-purpose role this season under a new coach whom Mackey had to convince that he was worth keeping around, even though that coach acknowledges that Mackey is underused.

He’s been through five head coaches (two in high school, one in junior college and two at Ole Miss) and more position coaches than he can remember.

Mackey may be the only fifth-year senior in the country whose position is listed as “athlete,” a designation usually reserved for high school prospects whose best college position has to be determined.

And by the way, last December, Mackey earned a degree in criminal justice, making him the first in his family to graduate from college.

“I think about all the time, what my life would have been like if Katrina hadn’t hit,” Mackey said. “I don’t guess I’ll ever know. But I believe it’s come out for the best.”

Of course, it would help if the Rebels could earn their first bowl bid since 2009.

But that looks difficult.

After a 5-3 start under first-year coach Huge Freeze, the Rebels have lost two straight, including an excruciating last-minute 27-26 home loss to Vanderbilt last week.

Mackey wound up with only two carries for 4 yards, two receptions for 15 yards and one incomplete pass.

“We didn’t use him well enough,” Freeze said. “It’s our fault because he certainly deserves more touches.

“He had an ankle that nagged him during the week, but he was certainly healthy enough. He’s important to the team, and I expect him to get more touches on Saturday.”

Mackey certainly hopes so.

Because of last year’s second suspension for undisclosed reasons (“I can’t answer that one,” he said), this will be Mackey’s only time to play against LSU. The Rebels, who are 18½-point underdogs, must win one of the next two games (next week’s finale is against Mississippi State) to become bowl eligible. That may sound like a modest accomplishment, but for a program that lost 16 of its last 17 SEC games before this season and was picked last in the Western Division, it would represent a step forward.

“We’d all like to have won more,” Mackey said. “But there have been a lot of positive changes since last spring. Coach Freeze has demands maturity out of us. And we’re still in the running for a bowl game, so we’re not giving up.”

Mackey has his own personal reasons for wanting to excel today. Despite his prep credentials, he wasn’t seriously recruited by LSU.

Perhaps it was his shaky academic status, which forced him to go to junior college. Or his size (5-foot-11, 195 pounds). Or, as Mackey has said, his less-than-enthusiastic attitude about being a quarterback to begin with.

“LSU didn’t recruit me like they should have,” Mackey said. “I thought they should have wanted me more.”

Not that Mackey’s been totally unhappy at Ole Miss.

But after last season, when Freeze succeeded Houston Nutt, it was time for both sides to make a decision.

Bo Wallace, who succeeded Mackey at East Mississippi, and Barry Brunetti had supplanted Mackey after Mackey’s second suspension. Freeze wasn’t sure he even wanted a player with a checkered history (Mackey was suspended for the 2011 opener against Brigham Young after his arrest following a bar fight two weeks before).

Plus, because Mackey had his degree, he could have transferred to another FBS school without having to sit out.

But during a meeting with the two, Mackey told Freeze he wanted to return and even embraced the position change, since, as he said, his ego didn’t require that he remain a quarterback.

“When I first got here, I didn’t know if Randall was going to make it because of what we were going to ask him to do,” Freeze said. “Some kids going into their senior year being asked to change positions could have a sour attitude.

“But Randall has been nothing but a great young man to coach, and he’s one of my favorite kids on my team.”

Mackey’s intangible contributions as a senior may be more than his statistical ones.

He’s the team’s third-leading rusher with 229 yards on 56 carries and has 20 receptions for 274 yards. Occasionally returning to his quarterback roots, Mackey has thrown six passes, completing three for 59 yards and one TD.

Mackey hoped to use his skills at the next level, probably as a wide receiver.

But if this is the end of football for Mackey, he does have his degree — which he considers his proudest college accomplishment, considering the academic struggles he’d had in the past.

“I want to keep playing somewhere,” said Mackey, who now considers Bastrop more his home than Plaquemines Parish. “But I’ll always have my degree to fall back on. I don’t have any real plans. But I figure I’ll find something to do with it.”

Spoken like someone whose life journey is really just beginning.