LAWRENCE — The story goes that the Kansas football program offered Joseph Randle a scholarship in elementary school.
The kid came from a fine football lineage. Older brother Larry played at Emporia State. Another older brother, John, began his college career with a few promising highlights at Kansas. And here was another Randle, dominating on Wichita youth fields and showing the same old package of Randle skills.
So maybe those Kansas coaches were onto something.
“Somebody told me that KU offered him in fourth grade,” KU coach Charlie Weis said earlier this week. “Well, they should have offered him in third grade.”
Weis, of course, has reason to grouse. On Saturday, Weis’ Jayhawks will face off against Randle, the Big 12’s leading rusher, when the Oklahoma State Cowboys travel to Memorial Stadium. A former standout at Southeast, Randle has developed into one of the most potent offensive forces in the conference. He’s rushed for 534 yards on just 75 carries, averaging 133.5 yards per game. And his tackle-breaking run against Texas earlier this season is certainly worthy of its YouTube acclaim.
“Just the passion that he runs with,” KU safety Bradley McDougald said. “It was a play against Texas; he ran through two Texas defenders and then took it to the house.”
In Lawrence, the story of the Randle brothers is a well-told story, a cautionary tale with a happy ending. When Joseph was still growing up in Wichita, John was beginning his career in Lawrence. It started off fine enough. He played a little running back, a little defense. He helped snap an 11-game losing streak against Kansas State with a highlight-reel run in 2004. But soon it unraveled. Multiple run-ins with the law. More setbacks. And finally, then-KU coach Mark Mangino dismissed John from the team.
These days, John Randle is back in Wichita, stable and all grown up after finishing his career at Southern Illinois. Now it’s brother Joe who is putting fear into opposing Big 12 defenses. In the end, the in-state schools never really had much of a chance in the recruiting game. Randle committed to Oklahoma State early in the process. And Kansas will have to deal with his combination of power and speed on Saturday.
“He’s a home-run threat…” Weis said, “and he’s a home-run threat when they dump the ball off to him, too. He’s a very, very good player.”
Last season, Randle rushed for 23 yards on seven carries as Oklahoma State throttled Kansas 70-28 in Stillwater. The Cowboys featured first-round talent at quarterback (Brandon Weeden) and receiver (Justin Blackmon), and the result was an aerial assault — Oklahoma State passed for 494 yards on 49 attempts. This year, Randle will get his shot against Kansas.
"These are two totally different teams from last year,” Randle told reporters earlier this week in Stillwater. “Last year’s team was different from this year, so we just have to focus on what it’s going to take to win."