Big Ten Tales: Antwaan Randle El recalls IU

I remember when Antwaan Randle El first hit the college football scene back in 1998 as an undersized quarterback at Indiana, a school known more for basketball than football. Randle El wasn’t a traditional college pocket quarterback, but instead he could throw, run and catch. I talked to Randle El about his Indiana days in my latest installment of “Big Ten Tales.”

Randle El passed for more than 1,700 yards and rushed for more than 800 yards that first season on the way to becoming the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 1998. When his collegiate career was over, Randle El became the first player in Division I college football history to throw for 40 career touchdowns and run for 40 more. He finished fifth all-time on the NCAA total yardage list, and became the first NCAA college football player to record 2,500 total yards in four consecutive seasons.

[RELATED: Watch Randle El's incredible 1998 game as Indiana's quarterback on BTN2Go.com.]

It’s been more than 11 years since Randle El last suited up in that Hoosier red, and after a successful nine-year NFL career, Randle El is now a co-host on the Big Ten Network’s “The Next Level.” I recently caught up with him to hear a few memorable stories from his playing days in Bloomington.

BTN.com: I know you were a star on the football field, but you also played some basketball under the great Bobby Knight during your time at Indiana, correct?
Antwaan Randle El: I did. Four years of football, two years of basketball under Coach Knight, and I actually managed to sneak one year of college baseball in there as well.

BTN.com: Wow, that’s no joke. So was Bobby Knight recruiting you for basketball while Indiana was also recruiting you for football?
Randle El: He didn’t look at me for basketball until he knew I was going to come there for football. He saw that I played in basketball state championships in high school and he realized, yeah, I could contribute to his program there.

BTN.com: Did he see that through film or did he see you shooting around one day. How did that come about?
Randle El: He saw it through film. I obviously talked to Coach Cam Cameron, who was the head coach of the Indiana football team at the time. I talked to him about me wanting to have the opportunity to play both sports in college and coach Knight was cool with it, so I said “Alright, let’s do it.”

BTN.com: Everyone who plays for Coach Knight has a great untold story, so what’s yours?
Randle El: I got a few of them. But to start, Coach Knight didn’t know me as Antwaan Randle El.

BTN.com: So that explains why he didn’t recruit you out of college, right? No really, what did he know you as?
Randle El: Well, as you probably know, Coach Knight is a big guy. He’s probably 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5, and he’s intimidating. But for some reason, Antwaan Randle El was just too long for him to say, I guess. So his idea behind it was, “Scratch that, you’re no longer Antwaan Randle El. Everybody else may call you that, but I’m going to call you Randy.”
I said coach, ‘”Why? What’s Randy?” Well, he said, your name is just too bleeping long. I said “Coach, just because your name is so simple, Bob Knight, doesn’t make that right. You gotta just work with it. And he said “No, that’s it.” And from that point on, he only referred to me as Randy. No Antwaan, no Randle El, strictly Randy.

BTN.com: Did anyone tell you one-on-one what it is like to play for him before you enrolled at Indiana?
Randle El: I heard a whole lot of stories. People always told me that you have to expect the unexpected with coach Knight. It’s always something that’s going to come out of him that is going to encourage or motivate his players to get going.

BTN.com: You have to have an example?
Randle El: Well, of course. I remember this one time we came out on the court at practice and we were really sloppy. We were playing just terrible and we kept turning the ball over. We couldn’t make a jumper, just couldn’t do anything. The No. 1 team couldn’t do anything on offense. So coach went over, grabbed a hold of the Gatorade jug, took it, and chucked it. Boom! It hit the middle of the basketball floor and it exploded everywhere. And I mean, everywhere.

He said “That’s how you guys are playing. Now clean it up!”

So, we thought he meant like clean up our basketball play so we can get this going. Nope, not so much. He stopped basketball practice and made us clean up all the Gatorade. Every last bit of it.

BTN.com: Did you do it?
Randle El: Well, I was a freshman so I had to do it. I had no choice. I got a couple of ball boys and managers to help me, but we got it done eventually.

BTN.com: Wow, have you ever seen him that intense before?
Randle El: Yes, at a referee one time in a game I remember. This referee kind of taunted Coach Knight in a game. Coach was as red as his sweater that day. Now, this wasn’t a small ref, this was a big guy. But let me tell you, if you were to put those two in an alley, Coach Knight would have whooped him. He was that upset that day.

BTN.com: That’s not exactly a guy I would want mad at me. How about any good stories from your football days at IU?
Randle El: Well, Coach Cam Cameron has a bit of Coach Knight in him in terms of he can let off and light into you. One year, Coach Cameron was on me so much. We had one hot read, where I was supposed to come back side with the ball and I didn’t. I still tried to force it front side. Well, he got on me so good that everybody, and I mean everybody, in the stadium could tell that he was letting me have it. He was upset. He had his paper in his hand, pointing it at me, in my face. He was letting me have it a good bit.

BTN.com: Does playing for guys like Cam Cameron and Bobby Knight prepare you for the next level and make you think “Well, it really can’t get any more heated then this.”
Randle El: Yes, indeed. It brings the best out of you. You have to think about this– I’ve played for a Hall of Fame coach in Coach Bobby Knight, a Hall of Fame coach in Coach Joe Gibbs in Washington, a Hall of Fame – or soon-to- be Hall of Fame – coach in Bill Cowher, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Cam Cameron was a Hall of Fame coach as well someday.

So yes, I’ve had the opportunity to be playing with some wonderful coaches who brought the best out of me. But, they brought it through a way of “This is who I am, so get on board. And if you’re not on board, then get off the train.” So I got on board, and I liked the way they taught me.

But you know what, it wasn’t just me. It was the same for everybody. They didn’t treat me any different. Whether I was the quarterback, backup point guard, slot receiver, punt returner, it didn’t matter. They wanted to make sure they were going to get the best out of me and the best out of our teams.

About Sean Merriman BTN.com contributor Sean Merriman interviews Big Ten names and asks them for a great story about their days in the Big Ten for our Big Ten Tales section.

Originally from Farmington Hills, MI, I have worked at the Big Ten Network since 2012 and took over my role as web editor and blogger in August, 2013. Follow me on twitter for constant Big Ten updates @srmerriman. Thanks and enjoy!!

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Stephen on 10/5/2012 @ 3:33pm EDT Said:

Those were some interesting stories . Thanks for sharing.
At a time when there were few dual threat quarterbacks and few African American quarterbacks, you may have been the best. Sorry it did not translate into more victories and a Big Ten title for you. A team though does take more than one individual. You did all that anyone could have asked.