T-shirts celebrate Randy Moss' 'alma mater,' Rand University
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - If you ask the residents of tiny, unincorporated Rand in eastern Kanawha County to locate the local institution of higher learning, they'll direct you without hesitation.
To the 7-Eleven.
Some even have the T-shirts showing their loyalty to "Rand University."
The classes don't amount to much, unless you count the life lessons learned standing on the corner with a 40-ounce container of beer bought inside the store.
This university also doesn't have any sports teams, unless you count the number of all-state athletes who have spent time around the place.
But at least one of those athletes, who admittedly spent a lot of time at the store, made it out.
Randy Moss, Rand native and wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers, will play in his second Super Bowl on Sunday. As the non-existent university's most famous alum, he has more than one Rand University T-shirt.
Cierra Jones, the mastermind behind the tees, said the faux school is a controversy in its own and people have to have a little humor when they wear the shirt.
Some, however, take it seriously.
Moss caused a stir when he said he had attended "Rand University" during a football game on national television years ago. He actually attended Marshall University and starred on the football team.
"Once he said it, people started going crazy, and I thought why not capitalize on it?" said Jones, a 23-year-old personal trainer. "I took it to an artist and he was able to make it look like something from a real university."
She had the shirts made at East Coast Tees in South Charleston. The designer there was able to match the colors for the shirts to those of the 49ers.
Jones begged her father, Donnie "Blue" Jones, Moss' close friend and business manager, not to tell the football star about the shirts. When they were finished, she snapped a picture of the tee and sent it to Moss with one of his own sayings, "BOOM!"
"He loved it and said he wanted his right then," Jones said.
She said he has two, one he wears to practice and another he wore on a visit home in early November. On that visit he snapped two pictures, one of himself in front of the 7-Eleven and another of himself perched atop the store's dumpster. He posted both to his Twitter account.
After that, Jones started getting calls, texts, and Facebook messages about the shirts.
She sold shirts to Moss fans across the country, in states like California, Minnesota and Florida. Another boom in sales came when the 49ers beat the Atlanta Falcons 28-24 in the NFC championship and a berth to the Super Bowl in New Orleans, she said.
To date, Jones has sold more than 250 shirts, about 150 since the win in Atlanta last week. She sold several using her cellphone, taking orders by text, email and Facebook. Jones said Thursday she had the logo trademarked after seeing someone wearing a "knock-off" of one of her shirts.
"I've got someone in California wearing my Rand University shirt and it doesn't even exist," Jones said of the make-believe school. "That something like that can travel. Some people look at it negatively, but it's cool that Randy's so humble to Rand. He puts it on the map."
She said people around the tiny town aren't starstruck when they see Moss. To them he's just "Otis," a nickname he's had since before his days at DuPont High School, where he was a standout football and basketball player.
"For him to pay homage to Rand," Jones said. "He could have easily said Randy Moss from Charleston, but he always says Rand. That's awesome."
More than 30 people went to the "Rand U" on Thursday wearing the shirts. Tommy Canterbury, an assistant coach of DuPont Middle School's Panther football team, showed up wearing his shirt with members of the team in tow.
Kim Canterbury, Tommy's wife, attended school with Moss and graduated from then-DuPont High in 1994. She said the group came out to show their support for Moss.
"He does a lot for our community, a lot of it on the down low," she said. "This shirt represents him. This is where he grew up, and really this is where we all came from."
Moss, who spent the 2011-2012 season in retirement after leaving the Tennessee Titans, worked with the boys at DuPont Middle over the summer in 2011. He also donated money to renovate the football team's field house a few years back.
Canterbury, wearing a black Rand University tee, said Moss sets a great example to the children and young adults in the area.
"I got to see the entire team learn from him," she said. "Ninety percent of the youth football players can't say they had a pro-football player come help them and coach them.
"He sets the bar high," she said. "But he shows that if he can overcome, then anyone can."
Tremale Straughter, 29, said he wears the shirt because it represents Moss and to show his support. Straughter is a friend of Moss and has been a supporter since Moss' days at DuPont.
"A lot of people thought it was an actual college," he said with a laugh. "I had to set them straight.
"It just means Rand. The hangout spot is the 7-Eleven."
Donnie Jones said the convenience store was the only place people had to hang out in Rand.
"This was our park, our rec center, our swimming pool," Donnie Jones said. "This is where it all started."
He said people used to tell them as teens and young men they weren't going anywhere but Rand U.
"(Moss) spent a lot of nights out here wondering," Donnie Jones said. "There have been a lot of great athletes come through here. He made it out."
If the 49ers pull off the win over the Baltimore Ravens Sunday, Jones said the party would be at "Rand University."
Cierra Jones said she might make commemorative Super Bowl shirts featuring the Lombardi trophy.
The shirts still are available by visiting randuniversity.com or emailing email@example.com.
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4850.