STILLWATER — In 2004, a 12-year-old Joseph Randle excitedly watched from the stands in Lawrence as his brother, John, took a handoff off the right side. John spun off, dodged and outran a slew tacklers for a 43-yard, highlight-worthy touchdown, as Kansas recorded its first victory over Kansas State in 12 years.
“We literally couldn't hear each other,” Joseph said of the moment he spent celebrating with his oldest brother, Larry. “We was having to scream into each other's ears. It was crazy.”
Fast forward six years, and it was John watching little brother Joseph score Oklahoma State's first touchdown in that same stadium, as the Cowboys scored a blowout victory over the Jayhawks in 2010 to secure the program's 10th regular-season victory for the first time in its history.
Joseph and John mirror each other in a lot of ways. Same position. Same No. 1 on the jersey. Similar inflections when they speak. Even in photos, they have a strikingly similar build with the football in their hands.
But the brothers have had different journeys while in college.
Though John found plenty of success on the field, too many off-the-field issues eventually got him dismissed from KU. Today, Joseph has established himself as perhaps the Big 12's best running back, and currently ranks sixth in the nation in rushing (133.50 yards per game).
Through it all, Joseph and John have remained close. And John knows his experiences have shown Joseph how to act — and not to act — as a prominent football player at a Big 12 school.
“By the time he got to college, he already knew,” John said. “I'm a living witness of things that he don't want to have to go through. And I'm a living witness of things he does want to go through on the field, the success that I had.
“He has an all-around example from me.”
When John and Joseph were kids, they used to set up a football “field” in between two couches in the house. Because John was seven years older, he would play on his knees, while Joseph would play standing up.
“I'd run a bunch of touchdowns, and he'd just get so mad,” John said with a laugh.
Joseph was the baby brother of the family. So he was a bit spoiled. And he was always confident, probably more so than his older brother, John admits.
Even though there was a large age gap between Larry (10 years), John (seven years) and Joseph, all three Randle boys wanted to follow in each other's footsteps.
That meant a lot of football.
Larry first played collegiately at Emporia State, a Division II school in Emporia, Kan. During that time, John became a standout running back and defensive back at Wichita Southeast High School and the No. 3-rated recruit in Kansas in the 2003 class.
When colleges started recruiting John, an elementary school-aged Joseph took it as a chance to also make an impression on those coaches.
During in-home visits, he'd entertain by popping in his Little League tapes, which showed him throwing touchdown passes as a quarterback and laying big hits as an outside linebacker. Then-KU coach Mark Mangino even followed the Randles to one of Joseph's basketball games.
“I told (Mangino) I was going to hit 13 points, and I had 13 points,” Joseph said with a smile.
John eventually picked the Jayhawks and had an impact right away. He played both running back and cornerback as a freshman, tallying 503 rushing yards and 22 tackles and earning All-Big 12 honorable mention honors. He became the Jayhawks' leading rusher the next season, compiling 540 yards and scoring nine total touchdowns.
And watching big brother gave Joseph his first taste of big-time college football.
“Those are the games that I can remember going to that were my first full, packed stadiums,” Joseph said.
But John could not stay out of trouble off the field.
He had six brushes with the law during his time in Lawrence, including a battery charge for allegedly hitting a man outside a local restaurant and a citation for disorderly conduct and battery for allegedly slapping a woman who tried to break up a fight between him and a teammate. He was dismissed from the Jayhawks in the offseason between the 2004 and 2005 seasons but remained in school at KU, then transferred to Southern Illinois before the 2006 season to finish his final two years of football eligibility.
Joseph politely declines to talk about how his brother's past may have impacted his own decision-making while in college. But John wants Joseph to learn from those mistakes and be careful about where he spends his free time and the people with whom he surrounds himself.
“It was embarrassing what me and my family had to go through,” John said. “Just by me getting into things that I got in. And I use that stuff on (Joseph). You know, ‘Don't do what I went through.'”
John finished his SIU career in 2007 with a 1,000-yard rushing season. That same year, Joseph was beginning to become a star of his own at Southeast, gaining more than 1,700 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground as a sophomore. He'd eventually become a four-star “athlete” recruit, and signed with OSU — with his family's advice and blessing, of course — after taking his only official visit to Stillwater.
Since arriving on campus, Joseph has blossomed into a dynamic, versatile weapon for the Cowboys. As the No. 1 running back last season, he amassed 1,216 rushing yards, 266 receiving yards and 26 total touchdowns. Less than halfway through his junior season, Randle already ranks 14th all-time in school history in rushing (2,202 yards) and sixth in rushing touchdowns (32).
Meanwhile, John, now 27, is leading a successful adult life. He's currently in his first year working with special education students at Wichita South High School. He's coaching a fifth-grade football team with Larry and their father, Larry Sr., and hopes to begin coaching high school football next season. He has three children of his own.
And when John watches his younger brother play, he sees Joseph once again following in — and even surpassing — his footsteps.
“I just see myself all over again,” John said. “That's why it's so exciting.”
Joseph and John talk on the phone a couple times every week, and John and the rest of the Randle family make the drive down to Stillwater for each OSU home game. John enjoys being able to give Joseph a pep talk on the field before the game, and then talk about his performance afterward.
And, of course, the whole family will be in Lawrence on Saturday when the Cowboys face the Jayhawks.
John is excited to run into familiar faces and will be proudly sporting a No. 1 “Randle” jersey — an orange OSU jersey, that is. Joseph admits this game does hold some special meaning to him, since it's in the stadium where John once played.
That's the bond of two brothers.
“I'm with him, regardless,” Joseph said. “There is no in between. That's family.”