Antwaan Randle El: The Freshman Who Changed a Program
If you graze through Indiana University football's history books, chances are you won't be blown away.
You won't find a National Championship, many Rose Bowl appearances, or a Heisman Trophy winner. The names Trent Green, Adawale Ogunleye, and Anthony Thompson may not ring a bell.
What you will find is a freshmen year so spectacular, it would change the landscape of the the University to its present day strategy.
The Beginning of a Legend
In 1997, prized recruit Antwaan Randle El, an athlete by every sense of the word, had hit a crossroads. A senior at Thornton Township High School in Harvey, Ill., his baseball skills had allowed him to be drafted by the Chicago Cubs 424th overall.
Despite being surprised he was drafted so high, Randle El chose college over Chicago. His college of choice was Indiana University, a Big Ten school known more for its basketball program, bicycle races, and Biz sinking than a football powerhouse.
Recruited for both football and basketball, Randle El was on his way to a starling four-year career at IU before hitting a speed bump.
Due to a low SAT score, he sat out his first full technical year at Indiana as a partial academic qualifier. However, thanks to his all-world athleticism, head coach Cam Cameron was willing to give Randle El a chance to take the field at Memorial Stadium immediately.
"Many of you are familiar with Antwaan, and he has a chance to win the starting quarterback job," Cameron said at Big Ten Media Day.
"We are going to play him somewhere and we'll find that out in the next four weeks. He could be our starting flanker, our punt returner or our starting wide corner. He could be a lot of things. We need him and Jay [Rogers] to play at a high level."
In the 1998 season opener, Randle El took the field, entering as a redshirt freshman and leaving a legend in the making. He completed 22 of 29 passes for 385 yards and three touchdowns, while running for 82 yards on 23 carries and scoring three more touchdowns in a 45-30 victory over Western Michigan.
Best Clutch Performance—Oct. 17, 1998
After some sub-par performances the next few weeks, Randle El took his 2-3 Hoosiers on a wild ride in their homecoming battle with Iowa. The previous year, Randle El watched on the sidelines as Iowa stomped the Hoosiers 62-0 in Iowa City, but in 1998, he would get his chance to reverse the fortunes.
Trailing 14-0 in the fourth quarter, Randle El had his eyes set on history. As the quarter began, Randle El had his team backed up on its own one-yard line. Thanks to a key seven-yard rush on a third down, Randle El led his team to a 99-yard touchdown drive, but it ended with a missed extra point.
After Indiana intercepted a pass in field goal range, another kick was missed, keeping the Hoosiers down by a point. Taking over on their own 25 with 1:58 to go, the Hoosiers turned to their freshest face for help.
Driving his team down to the eight-yard line, Randle El looked up to see just 14 seconds left on the clock. He took the snap, ran around right end, and took it into the end zone.
His two-point conversion pass put the Hoosiers on top 14-7, and they would become the first team in Big Ten history to lose to a team by 60 plus in one season and beat them the next year.
Following the game, Iowa head coach Hayden Fry could not help but give Randle El credit where it was due.
"Their quarterback is one of if not the most exciting quarterbacks I've seen in this conference in years and years and years," Fry said. "He's extremely gifted, talented, he's got an excellent arm, throws the ball well, but he's probably as good an option quarterback as anyone in the country."
After finishing the season 4-7, Randle El could not help but be disappointed about missing out on the postseason. His individual performance, however, did not go unnoticed.
After setting an IU record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season with 873 and throwing for 1,745 yards with six touchdowns, Randle El was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
He then went on to play for Bob Knight and the basketball team, and he was highly regarded as a lock-down defender for the storied program.
Randle El would go on past his freshman year to compile on of the greatest collegiate careers in history—and not just in Indiana.
During his senior season, he received some consideration for the Heisman Trophy, though he finished sixth.
Randle El was the first player in Division I history to pass for 40 career touchdowns and score 40 career rushing touchdowns, was the Big Ten Player of the Year in 2001, and was named the first-team All-American quarterback by the Football Writers Association of America.
He also finished fifth on the NCAA's all-time list for total yards from scrimmage, becoming the first player in history to accumulate 2,500 total yards in four consecutive seasons.
The Hoosiers attempted to find a replacement for Randle El's abilities by putting Kellen Lewis into the same position for a few years before being dismissed, and recently recruited Edward Wright Baker fits the same mold—both in skills and in number of names.
As a new college football season begins, kids fresh out of high school will make their presence known. Fans wil hearken back to days of freshmen athletes that broke records, helped win national championships, but the way Randle El took control will never be forgotten.
How he left the school will leave him forever immortalized, but every great ending has a new beginning, and it was how he began his career that shook the world of IU football for the foreseeable future.
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