STILLWATER — Joseph Randle often uses his family as motivation to perform well on the football field.
“I want to always play my best, so my mom won't have to hide her face at work,” Randle said. “I want her to be able to hold her head up (and say), ‘My son, he played his best. He did his part.'”
One day in the not-too-distant future, Randle will be able to provide his family with more than pride. He'll be able to contribute financially with an NFL paycheck.
But how soon?
With another standout season for the Oklahoma State junior running back nearly complete, questions began to surface Monday about Randle forgoing his senior campaign and entering the NFL Draft.
Randle will not allow that possibility to seriously cross his mind until after the season, though.
“There's no decision I've made or anything like that,” Randle said. “No, not at all.”
After a four-touchdown performance Saturday against Oklahoma, Randle continues to climb OSU's career charts and establish himself as the best all-around running back in the Big 12. He currently ranks 20th in the nation in rushing (110.18 yards per game) and is tied for 18th in rushing touchdowns (14).
He's a viable pro prospect because of his combination of power, straight-line speed and open-field moves, as well as his versatility as a pass-catcher out of the backfield or while lining up in the slot. And while he is likely “fresher” than a lot of backs coming out of college because of the chunk of carries delegated to backfield mate Jeremy Smith, Randle showed he can be a durable every-down back this season when Smith was hobbled by an ankle injury for about a month.
But running back is a tricky position when it comes to the NFL Draft.
Careers are often short-lived because of the physical beating the position requires. That physical toll, combined with a league that is continuously getting more pass-happy, means NFL teams appear to be more and more hesitant to take running backs early in the draft.
Last season, elite prospect Trent Richardson was taken by the Browns with the third overall pick, while Doug Martin and David Wilson were selected with the final two picks of the first round. From Rounds 2 through 5, eight total running backs came off the board. As a comparison, five quarterbacks, nine receivers, 12 offensive linemen and 15 defensive linemen were drafted in the first two rounds alone.
In 2011, no running backs were selected until Mark Ingram with the 28th overall pick. In 2010, however, three backs — C.J. Spiller (No. 9 overall), Ryan Matthews (12th) and Jahvid Best (30th) — were taken in the first round.
Randle is currently rated by ESPN's Scouts Inc. as a borderline third-round prospect, and the seventh-best running back in the 2013 draft class. North Carolina's Giovani Bernard is the highest-rated back as a second round prospect, while Michigan State's Le'veon Bell, Wisconsin's Montee Ball, Clemson's Andre Ellington, Alabama's Ed Lacy and Arkansas' Dennis Johnson are all ranked ahead of Randle.
Discussions with family will clearly contribute to Randle's decision to stay in Stillwater for one more season or move on to the next level.
So will his desire to finish his education. Randle recently switched his major from engineering to economics, which would allow him to graduate next December.
“I don't want to leave here without nothing,” said Randle, referring to his degree. “That's something I always think about.”
He also simply enjoys being a Cowboy and a “normal” college student.
“I'm having the time of my life right now,” Randle said.
Still, Randle realizes he'll have a choice to make in the coming months.
He's not shy about sharing that playing in the NFL has been his dream since he started playing football as a young boy. He also firmly believes the OSU offense would be fine without him next season, and that Smith would thrive as the Cowboys' No. 1 back.
But at the moment, Randle wants to remain focused on Saturday's game.
“I think Baylor is the best topic for right now,” he said.