Randall Cunningham Jr. has the kind of name recognition that begs the question of how he can possibly expect to live up to his famous quarterback father.
But for now, he’s concerned with living up to a lesser-known name: Anu Solomon.
Cunningham Jr. will be making his first varsity start at 10 p.m. ET Friday in the Built Ford Tough Game of the Week on Fox Sports 1. He and his Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) Gaels, ranked No. 21 in the USA TODAY High School Sports Super 25, will take on Mountain Pointe (Phoenix), with Cunningham in the spotlight. He’s taking over for Solomon, a four-year starter with four state titles, who is now at Arizona. Solomon threw for 10,112 yards and 138 touchdowns, and posted a 57-3 record.
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“If there were any pressure, it’d be moreso because of this being my first start for such a great program,” said Cunningham Jr., a senior QB. “Either way, I’m just focused on doing what I’ve got to do to win. I know that I’m stepping into big shoes, but I’m just focused on being the best me I can be.”
That mindset began in the eighth grade after a middle school league game when Cunningham Jr. turned in a forgettable performance under center in the season opener.
“I was mad because I was really trying to be as good as my dad,” Cunningham Jr. recalled. “My dad had a long talk with me after that game about all of the bad games he had in his career. He told me to never worry about being as good as him, just to play the best that I possibly could. I can honestly say that after that night I’ve never really felt pressure to be my dad. Never.”
That’s why Cunningham Jr. not only doesn’t mind that his dad comes to his practices “around three times a week,” he prefers it.
The elder Cunningham threw for 29,979 yards, more than Joe Namath or Terry Bradshaw, rushed for 4,928 yards and went to four Pro Bowls in 16 NFL seasons.
“I’m not the dad that’s always correcting him and riding him about being perfect,” Cunningham Sr. said. “I’ll give him pointers on things, but I’m more the dad who’s always encouraging him. I don’t have to stay on him like that. He’s got the mentality already. He wants to be the best.”
As a backup last season, Cunningham Jr., a 6-foot-5, 180-pound dual-threat quarterback with 4.5 speed and freakish athletic ability (sound familiar?), threw for 298 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 483 yards and seven touchdowns.
“We know that he’s very capable,” Mountain Pointe coach Norris Vaughan said. “It’s got nothing to do with who his dad is, we’re focused on him. That’s enough to focus on right there. He’s a player now.”
College coaches concur.
Cunningham Jr.’s brief flashes of brilliance and strong showings at summer combines have the offers pouring in.
Syracuse, Baylor, LSU, Mississippi State, Arizona State, Kansas State and UCLA, among others, are all in hot pursuit.
“It’s a blessing to have all of these schools offering me already,” he said. “I’m just taking the whole process slow. It’ll be hard to narrow it down.”
The process of elimination should help.
Cunningham Jr. wants to go to a school that will allow him to play football and compete in track and field since he just happens to be the national high jump champion, clearing 7 feet, 3.25 inches in the Nevada state championship on May 18.
“And he did that at the age of 16,” Cunningham Sr. said. “I jumped 6 feet, 9 inches when I was 18 and I thought I was doing something. He’s an amazing athlete.”
The ultimate goal?
“I want to jump in the Olympics,” Cunningham Jr. said. “That jumping ability definitely helps me on the field; just the training that goes into it helps when I have to get away from the defense, and if I ever have to jump over someone I’m sure I’ll be able to.”
He knows at least one other indisputable truth; no matter what he’ll never be able to escape his father’s shadow.
“It’s too big,” Cunningham Jr. said. “That’s why I don’t even try to. I’m proud to be his son and to be able to learn from him. I love having him there for me, but I’m not trying to be him. I want to make my own lane.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY