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Photo by: National Underclassmen Football Combine

Raising a Star Athlete with JACQUELINE RANDLE EL

Courtesy: Annie Apple / National Underclassmen Football Combine
          Release: October 19, 2010
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Jacqueline Randle El is the mother of Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl winning wide receiver, Antwaan Randle El.  In his ninth NFL season, the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver has blossomed into a dynamic multipurpose high energy player, certifying his reputation as an outstanding and versatile wideout, an explosive kick and punt returner and a situational quarterback.  Antwaan is back with the Pittsburgh Steelers after three seasons with the Washington Redskins.  While the Super Bowl winning receiver draws fans from all across the country, growing up in the Randle El household, there were three sons and three stars in the family, Curtis, Jr., Antwaan and Marcus.

Antwaan and his brothers were born and grew up in Riverdale, Illinois near the South Side of Chicago and raised by both parents, Jackie and her husband Curtis Randle El Sr. Antwaan, 31, is the second oldest of the Randle El boys.  Antwaan and his brothers graduated from Thornton High School where he was not only a star quarterback but an elite basketball and baseball player.  A highly recruited athlete, Antwaan then attended Indiana University and played quarterback for four years. His older brother, Curtis Jr., 33, was a defensive back at Indiana and his younger brother, Marcus was a wide receiver at Wisconsin University.

In a candid conversation with Jacqueline Randle EL, she shares openly her experiences raising three gifted athletes and young men.  "When I speak of Antwaan, I speak of all my boys. They all grew up together played, football basketball, and baseball."   But before the Super Bowl spotlight and on field accomplishments, there were just three little boys with two committed parents who were willing to sacrifice so their sons could live out their dreams.  "Everyone sees the finished products, but they don't realize the work it took to make it," said  Jackie.  The beautiful 49 year-old grandmother of seven freely shares her wisdom in raising not just one but three star athletes.

1. Help them find their way

All kids are great at something and when it comes to sports, Mrs. Randle El says to help them find their niche and discover what they're good at doing early, even if it means playing various sports.  "Whatever it is, help them find their way and teach them to give it 110 percent," Jackie said. The Randle El boys played football, basketball and baseball.  Though Antwaan was always much smaller than the other kids, he was resilient. "Antwaan never gave up.  He didn't care who he played against.  He was much smaller than average quarterback.  He always gave it all."  According to Mrs. Randle El, having your son play multiple sports helps him realize what he likes and what he's great at, but he and you will never know it if he doesn't try.

2. Keep them busy

The Randle El boys were never idle.  According to Jackie, keeping your son busy gives him no time to get into trouble.  The Randle El's sons' days were always occupied with sports.  "We had all the boys doing something, football, basketball and baseball.  They had no time for anything else."  Antwaan and his brothers attended Thornton Township High School in Harvey, Illinois, where he played football, basketball and baseball. Though Antwaan was known as a top quarterback in high school, he was also a star in all three sports. 

3. Believe in their talents

No matter what anyone says your children cannot do, it's important to believe in their talents and abilities.  "Antwaan had no problem at quarterback in high school, but he was told during the recruiting process that he's too small," recalled Jackie.  "Colleges said he was too small, but what God has for you, no one can take it.  Do what you can do and let God do the rest and never gave up," Jackie said adamantly.  "Antwaan got a football scholarship.  He went to Indiana and broke all the records."  He was the first player in NCAA Division I history to pass for 40 career touchdowns and score 40 career rushing touchdowns. He was the Big Ten Player of the Year in 2001 and was named First-Team All-American quarterback by the Football Writers Association of America. He finished his college career as fifth on the all-time NCAA total yardage list and became the first player in college football history to record 2,500 total yards for four consecutive years. He finished his college football career with 7,469 passing yards, 3,895 rushing yards, and 92 touchdowns running and passing. Randle El is considered one of the premier offensive threats in college football history.

However, preparing to go pro, Antwaan and his family would once again hear the skepticism.  "After four years we faced it again.  He was told he'll never be able to hold that position in the NFL, but Antwaan never played receiver but once in his life.  He could have turned around there and given up.  If you said he couldn't, he pressed on in NFL and did well." Antwaan, drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft, has certainly made a name for himself: won a Super Bowl with the Steelers during the 2005 season; serves as a WR, RB, QB, punt and kick returner; has 348 career receptions for more than 4,000 yards and 15 touchdown receptions, and is the only wide receiver in NFL history to throw a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl when he completed a 43-yard pass to Hines Ward against Seattle in Super Bowl XL.

4. Make faith and family a priority

With Antwaan and Curtis being 18 months apart, the Randle Els had their hands full on game day.  The family's lives were consumed by the boys' busy sports schedule.   "It was about them.  We knew what had to be done.  We hadn't take a vacation in I don't know how long.  I was complaining that the family needed a vacation.  So one year, we went to Florida or Wisconsin, they missed practice and lost that Sunday.  The coach told them 'if you weren't busy playing with your rubber duckie,' we would have won.  But we needed a vacation.  We were always traveling because the boys played out of state championship games."  While her sons' schedule called for the family to make lots of sacrifices, one thing Jackie and her husband remained adamant about is maintaining their faith.  "When we would go to their Pop Warner games, we were there from 7am to 2 to 3pm on Sundays.  We'd have a schedule and run it tight.  We couldn't not have dinner together, and we couldn't not serve the Lord.  We'd attend early Sunday morning service then go off to the games.  If they couldn't make that service, they had to go to Tuesday night service, and if I heard any of them complain about having to go to church, they wouldn't play football that coming Sunday.  The coaches weren't too happy about that but oh well. We couldn't not serve the Lord," said Jackie.  "Whatever works for you, do it, but this is what we did."

5. Maintain a balance

While football is a very masculine sport, Jackie says that her perspective helped her boys find the balance they needed.  "I think it helped them be focused, responsible, and respectful."  As she and her husband reinforced what they expected of the boys, her sons came to know what was expected of them, on and off the field, along with the support of their coaches.  "When you let your sons go in the hands of coaches and when coaches reinforce what you're teaching at home, it helps on and off field."

Growing up, all three brothers, mainly Antwaan and Curtis, Jr., were always written about in the papers.  While they were star athletes, Jackie and her husband worked to make sure their growing boys maintained the right perspective.  "They didn't read a lot of papers or watch TV.  They didn't watch or listen to the reports.  They were just too busy." By keeping them focused on their games and not the media, helped to keep the boys grounded and confident.

6.  Stay close to your son

Raising three sons near the South Side of Chicago was not easy, but Jackie and Curtis, Sr., were able to keep their sons out of trouble, not because they were immune from the effects of the inner city but because they not only made family time and their faith a priority, they also taught their kids the importance of being accountable for their actions. "When they get older you lose control.  You just gotta let go and hope your child is living what they learn and just not let other friends have influence over them.  It's gonna be hard to follow someone else when I gotta answer to my parents, but when parents are not around, they may feel like, 'I don't have to answer to anyone.'  So you have to stay close to them.  Be involved as much as you can.  Keep them occupied and they won't have time for anything else."   To the parents who may not have the finances to maintain their sons in sports, Jackie says you cannot afford not to have them being constructive.  "With our sons, we always knew where they were.  When your kid plays sports, you know where your kid is at all times."

7. When it comes to college recruiting, do your homework

While all three sons went on to receive scholarships to play Division 1 football with Curtis, Jr., and Antwaan at Indiana and Marcus at Wisconsin, Jackie says when it comes to the recruiting process, parents have to do their homework.  Though Antwaan had recruiting letters coming during his freshmen year in high school, Jackie says parents must keep their sons moving forward.  "Don't get wrapped up in that. Keep him playing. Keep him balance.  The schools are looking at you, but you still have to finish high school." Jackie says that just because your son gets 20 letters in his freshmen year, those letters can diminish.  "They think when you get letters that means it's always there; as if it's a sure thing.  Stay focused on the field. Stay focused on the game so he can choose where he wants to go.  If they keep their eyes off the goal, they lose.  Letters don't mean anything.  You could be the best player on the field, but if you don't have the grades, it means nothing." Jackie also advises parents and student-athletes to learn the NCAA rules.  "When people know better, they do better.  Some players and families break rules without knowing they're doing so.  If you don't know the NCAA rules, you do something and you found out later it was wrong and then you lose. Do the homework and find out what the rules are." 

8. When it comes to recruiting, ask questions and keep alert

There are many temptations and pitfalls for players and families; so parents have to stay alert.  "You have to watch out for people being deceitful.   Recruiters offering scholarships they can't stand up to and positions they can't guarantee.  Know who else they're recruiting. Ask questions and check out what they say. Find out when college coaches are supposed to call and when they're not.  I was talking to coaches when they weren't supposed to call.  Once I found out, I was like, 'are you supposed to be calling?' The calls get crazy.  There are certain times they are supposed to call and not call; they're certain times for everything."  So it's important for parents to keep watch over their sons and those trying to gain an advantage through various means.  Don't get caught in the hype but keep watch. By staying alert and keeping watch, gives your son the freedom and peace of mind to focus on the field and in the classroom.

9. Choosing the right school

When it comes to selecting the right college, there are various approaches.  While the student-athlete ultimately makes the decision, Jackie says considering other factors can make the choice both effective for the student and the family.  "Twaan had about 15 choices and Curtis had 12 choices.  When Curtis made his choice, I told him I want you to change your school and choose a school in the 5 hours radius.  If anything happens to you, how fast can your family get to you?  Think about your family, the African American ratio, how much of the scholarship are we responsible for?  Not all scholarships are full rides.  Some provide education but what about room and board and books? Ask them to break it down.  So consider the distance and the amount of the scholarship and how would your son fit in the program?  Is he going to sit behind six quarterbacks?" So after addressing these concerns with Curtis, Jr., and making him realize how difficult it would be for the family to visit or attend games if he goes to a school in Florida or a school on another side of the country, Curtis changed his mind and chose Indiana which, for the family, was a more practical choice.  "When he picked Indiana, we were happy inside.  Then Antwaan was like I'm not going to Indiana but then he looked at playing with his brother. They're very close, and Antwaan saw how much easier it was for the family to travel to Curtis's game, he too chose Indiana.  You gotta look at everything and you have to do what's best for you and the family."

10.  Make sure they're learning in college and hold the school accountable

One of the things the Randle Els did right was to stay close to their boys.  "We stayed in touch with our sons, letting people know they had to come through us."  However, one lesson they quickly learned was to stay on top of their son's school progress and course selections.  "Antwaan was the kind of kid that if he could play ball all day, he would.  When Curtis was stabbed breaking up a fight at college, we went to see him.  This was one of the toughest times for our family.  While I was there looking after Curtis, I decided to look at Antwaan's college schedule.  One of his classes was archery.  Archery? I couldn't believe it.  I went to see his counselor.  She said that she couldn't catch up with Antwaan to choose his course so she put him as general study.  At this Big Ten School, almost every black child had general study as their major. I helped to fight that and that's when the rule was changed that you can't graduate IU with a general study degree.  Antwaan chose broadcast communication.  So, parents have to learn about majors, graduation requirements and rates.  Ask questions. Educate your self to know."

Jackie reiterates the importance of staying close to them. "When kids know that you're there, it makes it harder for others to just come at them.  Don't think everything is going to fall into place. Find a way to stay in touch.  Know what's going on at school."



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