It wasn’t unusual for Matt Randolph to make friends with his opponents before a wrestling match. He would make light-hearted chit-chat and get to know them.
Then when the whistle blew, he was all business.
Liked by virtually everyone who met him, the 41-year-old Randolph died Thursday after a short illness.
“He should’ve been a salesman,” Wadsworth coach John Gramuglia said. “He would talk to all of these guys and they would think he was a nice guy. Then he would end up beating them. He would step on the mat and turn the switch on. They would all be surprised.
“That was his MO. He would shake their hand and love them. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body.”
That easy-going temperament made Randolph as unique as his ability to pin an opponent in mere seconds, and his larger-than-life personality fit his heavyweight build.
“When it comes to Matt, I never talk wrestling first, I talk person first,” Gramuglia said. “He was just a special kid. All the good ones are.
“He had a calmness to him and had a big heart. He was always happy.”
Randolph was one of four brothers — he was the third-youngest — that helped Gramuglia build Wadsworth’s wrestling program into the state power it is today.
He was part of what Gramuglia referred to as the first “Murderer’s Row” in school history, as he, brother Bart and Rick Wheeland formed an upper-weight trio that dominated the area.
The highpoint of Randolph’s career came as a senior in 1989, when he finished runner-up at the Division I state tournament.
Randolph notched a 13-0 win over Dayton Meadowdale’s Scott Gaskins to open the competition before pinning Tim Riley of St. Edward and beating Charles Bass of Cleveland Heights 13-5 to earn a spot in the finals.
There, Randolph faced Stow’s Ted Gregory in the final match of the night in front of a packed crowd at Ohio State’s St. John Arena. Randolph reinjured his shoulder, but gutted it out and finished the match, which he lost 8-3.
It’s something Gramuglia can clearly remember.
“It happened in the first 20 seconds of the match and he could’ve given up right there,” the coach said of Randolph, who missed his junior season due to an ACL injury sustained during football season.
Joining Randolph in Columbus was then-junior and current Wadsworth Middle School coach Larry Kaufman, who recalled how his teammate could flip the switch at the start of a match.
“Like any good wrestler, he didn’t like losing,” Kaufman said. “He was always nervous before matches. Not in a bad way, but he always wanted to know more about them. But when he went out, he got to work.”
Randolph was one of three members of his family to reach the podium at state, joining Bart (state runner-up, 1987) and Rex (5th place, 1993). He also has another brother, Tim.
Randolph, who is survived by wife Angela and their daughters Makayla, Kendall and Karsyn, went on to become a two-time All-American while wrestling for Heidelberg University, graduating from the school in 1994. He also was a former sheriff’s office employee in Medina County.
But it was his infectious personality that stood out more than his dominating approach to a match.
“I can remember going to Iowa for the Dan Gable Wrestling Camp and him teaching my little sister how to play cards,” Kaufman said. “When we were there, one of Iowa’s national champion wrestlers, his name was Rico Chiapparelli, Matt challenged him that he couldn’t turn him.
“So the whole camp gathered around and he couldn’t do it, so (Chiapparelli) finally went to an ankle lock to try and turn him. Matt got all this attention and I don’t think he ever turned him.”
The family will receive friends from 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. Tuesday at the Hilliard-Rospert Funeral Home in Wadsworth, where the funeral service will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m.
In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the Robert Randolph Memorial Fund in care of Wadsworth Youth Wrestling.
“We’re going to remember him forever,” Gramuglia said. “He would come back (in recent years) and always say, ‘Hey, Coach, don’t forget to enjoy it.’ He was always cracking a joke. He was one of those guys that would always say, ‘Did you hear this one?’
“His loss just teaches us that we’ve got to enjoy every relationship.”
Contact Dan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.