For Marcus Randle El football and family are intertwined. The third of three brothers to play Division I college football, Randle El strives for his own identity while maintaining a close bond with the siblings who preceded him.
Football and family bonded as Curtis Randle El Sr. shuttled Marcus and his older brothers Curtis Jr. and Antwaan to and from practices and games, traveling ever-increasing distances as the three young stars grew older.
Football and family are a primary reason Marcus Randle El ended up in Madison and, as a true freshman wide receiver for the University of Wisconsin, has already dazzled Badger fans with his unique athleticism.
Randle El is a "wiggler" as Badger coach Barry Alvarez has often said since he signed his letter of intent last February. He is a playmaker, through skill and instinct; the type of player who needs to have an opportunity to touch the football.
He is also a young man who had to mature faster than he expected after the birth of his now two-year-old son, Marcus Jr.
"That's my life right there," Marcus said. "Everything is about him and I'm doing everything because of the motivation that I have to do for him."
Marcus Randle El is the jovial sort, with a comedic, affable personality. He is exceptionally serious, however, about football, school and, most importantly, his family.
That was the case long before the birth of Marcus Jr., Curtis Sr. said, but "he had to grow being a father. As a young guy he made a mistake and I kind of got on him about that, you know. He turned out to really be a good, responsible kid toward his son."
Marcus Jr. lives with his mother in Dixmoor, Ill., a south suburb of Chicago, about seven miles from Thornton, where Marcus attended high school. Marcus considered scholarship offers from Wake Forest and Nebraska, but chose Wisconsin in large part because Madison is within driving distance of home.
"If something happens to him, I want to be able to get home quick," Marcus said.
"They have a real good relationship," Curtis Sr. said. "When he's home he's taking time out with his son and doing the things a father is supposed to do. He has a real good relationship with him."
The support of his family has helped.
"I just told him, as long as he do what he has to do, I will take care of my grandson while he's in college," Curtis Sr. said.
Marcus was a star quarterback and point guard for the Thornton Wildcats and was an honor roll student.
"He couldn't work because he played two sports….and my wife, financially, we take care of him," Curtis Sr. said. "All we want to do with him is concentrate on school, his grades and, you know, do good on the football field. And he's been doing that."
The demands of playing college football and his academic workload will keep Marcus from making many trips home, but he said he plans on visiting his son whenever he has time off.
"I just want to be the father to my son like my dad was to me," Marcus said.
Curtis Sr. has already visited his son for two Badger game days. He plans to attend all of Wisconsin's home games. Last week, after watching the Badgers beat UNLV, Curtis Sr. flew from Chicago to Pittsburgh to see Antwaan Randle El play for the NFL's Steelers.
It is the type of travel Curtis Sr. has engaged in throughout his sons' athletics careers, beginning when Curtis Jr. and Antwaan played on different Pop Warner football teams and continuing as first Curtis Jr., then Antwaan, went on to play football at Thornton and then Indiana University.
"One day I came in and I was kind of tired," Curtis Sr. said. "I came in from one game and my wife was looking. I was dragging. She said, ‘Don't get tired now. We've got one more to go.'"
"That's always good for a father to do that," Marcus said. "I love him for that. You need that support… That's a blessing to have a father like that."
While Marcus could defy opponents on the gridiron and hardwood, he has had a hard time escaping his brothers' long shadows. Curtis Jr. played cornerback for the Hoosiers, received a masters degree from Indiana and is now working in the criminal justice field in Pittsburgh. Antwaan threw for 7,469 yards and ran for 3,895 in his Indiana career. His brothers helped develop Marcus as a football player and he keeps in close contact with them.
"He don't want everybody to think, ‘well, you know, that's Antwaan's and Curtis' brother,'" Curtis Sr. said. "No, he wants, ‘You know what, I'm Marcus Randle El.' Like I told him, ‘you have to go out there and make a name for yourself. Don't try to outdo your brothers or anything but… whatever you do reflects on you, not on them.'"
Particularly long, and appropriately so, is the shadow Antwaan casts. One of the most dynamic players in college football history, Antwaan was told by many college recruiters that he should be a cornerback in college. So he chose Indiana and starred at quarterback. Even as a senior at IU, though, he was briefly moved to wideout (at his suggestion) before switching back behind center. Now with the Steelers, Antwaan is a receiver, punt returner and kick returner.
Marcus was recruited as a corner, receiver, returner and quarterback by different schools. Wisconsin recruited him as a quarterback/athlete and he was switched to receiver in an effort to get him on the field.
"I still have the quarterback dream," he said. "It might take a little time but…I'm a wide receiver right now so that's what I've got to be."
Marcus' desire to call the signals is not as strong as his belief in team and his gratitude for the opportunity to play as a true freshman.
"That's a blessing. First you have to thank God for that," Marcus said. "When I first got to camp it was a struggle to get in the two-deep…Now I'm getting the reps that I want and I'm just trying to make it happen."
Marcus has been a situational weapon for Wisconsin, typically entering the game to run reverses and fake reverses. He has five carries for 26 yards, one reception for six yards and one punt return for 10 yards.
"His best avenue to play—at least at this point in his career—is at wide receiver," receivers coach Henry Mason said. "He's the same guy every day. He's a fun kid, he likes football, he enjoys practice... He's doing a good job in school…Most of the time people when they have that type of energy and that type of personality and you have some talent, you usually end up being a pretty good player."
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