Everything about it sounds like a pitch for a movie.
In fact, you may have seen it already.
A young black football player moves in with a white family in the suburbs, thrives in life and on the football field, gets a college scholarship, and as the camera pans the room, it focuses on a portrait on the wall of him and his new happy family.
For Brandon Randle at Battle Creek Central, his current success story has been going to script — similar to the 2009 movie “The Blind Side.” As one of the top high school football players in the state, and a Michigan State University recruit, the senior’s life took a turn for the better when he moved in with his football coach Lorin Granger and his family a few years ago.
“That is actually one of my favorite movies, makes me cry every time,” said Audra Granger, the coach’s wife. “His friends make fun of him sometimes and say, ‘you got blind-sided.’ He jokes it off and says he thinks he should get Coach Granger’s truck because that’s what the boy in the movie did and we need to follow the script. But there are two very big things that aren’t the same as that movie: We aren’t millionaires and Brandon wasn’t homeless, he has a family. We are fortunately a part of his extended family and his support system.”
If you look at Randle and his situation and only see “The Blind Side,” you aren’t seeing the whole picture.
With an involved mother and father living in North Carolina, Randle has a connection to that family. With an extended group of relatives in Battle Creek, he has a support system here. And with the Grangers, he has a loving home that has helped him develop and become the person he is today, and would not know what to do if he wasn’t a part of their everyday lives.
It is a complete football family, with several players, that has been a winning situation for Randle.
“Since I’ve come here, we have really grown as a family. They take care of me and I love them like they are my parents and brothers,” Randle said. “It’s just a blessing to be part of the Granger family.
“But my parents still keep tabs on everything that is going on. Mom comes up here and checks in. She’s my mom, she’s protective of me, that’s her job.
It all started by accident
As a 13-year-old getting ready for eighth grade, Randle moved in with his grandfather Corey Bouyer when his parents Deanna and Aroson Randle moved to North Carolina.
It was decided it was the best thing for Brandon to stay with family in familiar surroundings in Battle Creek.
“Academically, Brandon needed a smaller system. The school system here in Raleigh was just too big,” Deanna Randle said.
“Battle Creek has a lot closer environment. In Raleigh, he would have been a small fish in the pond, in Battle Creek he could be a shark,” Aroson Randle said.
As a freshman at Battle Creek Central, getting involved in the football program, he started a relationship with the Bearcats’ head coach, as the two would go to basketball games together and Granger would drive him to his grandfather’s house after practice when he needed a ride.
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But following his sophomore year at BCC, Randle was thinking of rejoining his family in North Carolina and left Michigan that summer, seemingly not planning to return.
“He was struggling with his decision to stay in Battle Creek. He was wanting to go to North Carolina and I think he was wanting to have a closer relationship with his mom and and his younger brother and sister and he was thinking it was time to go,” Granger said. “I actually talked to him that track season and advised him he should probably go. To me, if you can be in your original family environment it is probably better. And that was the plan, but somehow during that summer things changed and he made plans to come back again in the fall.”
Before getting back to Battle Creek, however, Randle’s grandfather was in a car accident — putting him in a situation where it looked like he wouldn’t be able to take care of a teenage boy and his needs, including going to school and playing football.
That seemingly made the decision easy. Randle was to stay in North Carolina.
But then he made the call.
“My family and I were in California on vacation and he called me,” Granger said. “He said he wasn’t going to be coming back because of the accident. But as the conversation went on, he said he still wanted to come back, he just didn’t know where to go. After that I hung up the phone and told my wife what was happening.
“Right away, she said he could stay with us. I was like, I wasn’t going to ask, but if she’s OK with that, we could look into it.”
At that point, Granger had never met Randle’s parents, and his wife Audra had only met Randle one time herself.
“His mom wasn’t sure at first; she didn’t know us,” Granger said. “She was, ‘Who are you, what do you do?’ But we talked a lot over the phone, she came up and met my family and we decided to give it a try. But at that point, it was still supposed to be temporary. But grandpa’s recovery took a lot longer than we thought. By the time he got better, Brandon had become part of our family and ended up staying and it became a permanent thing.
“Overall, he has embraced being part of our family, without ever forgetting he already has one, which made it work for everybody.”
It seemed like a fit from the start with his new family — which now included two new brothers along with Coach and Mama G.
“From the first day I was here I knew things were going to be good. I felt right at home from the start. I felt good about Coach Granger. I didn’t know the boys or Mama G at all, but she made me feel right at home,” Randle said. “She said, ‘This is your house.’ They had a room for me, already had Michigan State covers on the bed, and the boys were all excited about having a big brother.”
From football to family
The original drive to stay in Battle Creek was to be with his friends and play football with the teammates he had grown up with.
That turned out to be a great decision for Randle and his college prospects. The senior has blossomed in the BCC program.
He currently is verbally committed to play at Michigan State University, planning to sign with the Spartans in February. He has been named as a four-star recruit by Scout.com and has been invited to the Army All-American Bowl, an annual all-star football contest played in January in Texas.
“I just wanted to stay in Battle Creek to play football with the guys I have been playing with since eighth grade. I just wanted to finish my high school up here and didn’t want to leave my friends,” Randle said of the main reason he didn’t go to North Carolina with his family. “But it has turned out to be more than that. I feel like, because I stayed, I have grown as a person. Coach has really helped me mature and this has become my family.”
Still, the dynamics of such a fit could have been a challenge. But it proved to be one that was easily conquered.
“Working in education, I knew it was easy to love other kids that are not yours. But I wasn’t sure what his take was going to be,” Audra Granger said. “I was worried he was going to be uncomfortable. I can’t even imagine coming to live with strangers at that point in your life. But it was the most bizarre thing — it just clicked.
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“And why it has worked is because he has put in as much work as we have to be part of this family.”
The family structure goes beyond the kind words as well. Randle is expected to help around the house, he gets structure from the adults in the home in terms of doing his homework, rules concerning hanging out with friends, and he participates in family events — such as going to the younger boys’ games.
While it wouldn’t have been a stretch to see Granger’s sons Kyler, 13, and Kayden, 9, look up to a high school football hero and feverishly root him on under the Friday night lights, it is a two-way street as well. Randle is there on the sidelines on Saturday mornings, without even a nudge from anyone, to be a part of the family cheering section.
“We never once told him he had to go to the younger boys’ events. He is up and ready to go whenever there is stuff going on. We never force him to do that stuff, he just wants to participate,” Audra Granger said. “We definitely have not replaced his parents, but we are his surrogate parents. He calls me Mama G and calls Lorin ‘Coach’, but there are times he will joke around and calls him dad, too. And he has a great relationship with the boys — a strong relationship.”
As strong a relationship as you’d see in any family, according to those involved.
“My kids have really gotten used to having a big brother. Especially my oldest, because he never had a big brother and always wanted one. And for my youngest, every day he walks in the door, he says, ‘where’s Brandon?’” Granger said. “We’ve talked about going back to live with his grandpa at times, but every time it comes up, it just ends up being we’d all be devastated if he wasn’t here.”
Long distance relationship
Nobody is really surprised Brandon Randle is a college football prospect. He comes by his athletic ability naturally.
His mother Deanna ran track at Michigan State University and Clemson University and his father Aroson played basketball at the college level. His grandfather is a member of the Hall of Fame at Ferris State University after being a standout in track and football there.
So the fact that the 6-foot-3, 215-pound linebacker was recruited by several schools before deciding to go to Michigan State seemed like it was destined to happen.
“Talent-wise, this is what we expected,” Deanna Randle said. “His athletic ability is in the bloodlines. Me and my husband are really excited for Brandon. He has wanted to play football at the college level for along time. I like Michigan State. That’s where Brandon wanted to go and we are behind that 100 percent. We are all green and white now. I already have been in touch with his advisers up there.”
That connection with that part of his family goes beyond genetics, as he continues to have a strong bond there, even if the there are miles between them.
“In today’s world, with modern technology, you don’t feel that far away,” Deanna Randle said. “He isn’t staying the nights with us, but I text him every day. We watch his games online, and I talk a lot to his teachers to make sure he’s doing what he needs to do.”
Randle’s maturity shows in his perspective on the distance.
“I think it is hard on her for me to be away. But I’ve been gone since I was 13, so I think to her, it’s kind of like I am in college already,” Randle said.
All in the family
Like a lot of parents, the Grangers have thought about the time when their children will be leaving home to go off to college. Always an emotional time for close-knit families, with young sons who are 13 and 9, Audra and Lorin didn’t figure they’d be dealing with those feelings for several years.
But Brandon will be off to college by this time next fall. The tight family unit they have created will be separated by the distance measured by the time on the highway it takes to get to East Lansing.
Randle has already soothed some of those feelings of impending loss.
“This has become my family. Living here now allows me to be with my family,” Randle said. “And it will always be. I’m going to college, but I won’t be that far at Michigan State. I will be back for family gatherings, for family photos.”
When you walk into the front room of the Grangers home, the first thing you see is a giant image. The photo on the wall, with its style of framing and prominent placement in the main room, gives every indication of a family portrait. And every indication of what this family has become.
Yes, there is something different about it compared to many family photos.
There is a white couple with young children that look like them, and standing with them is a black teenager.
But what is inescapable is that, in their eyes, and in the colors inside the framework, there’s the same love that exists in every family, no matter what the structure or no matter the origins.
“We never force him to do things with the family, he just does; it is that kind of relationship. But when it came to family pictures, I didn’t know what to think. I just said, do you want to be in the family picture? He said, ‘Well, yeah’,” Audra Granger said, making it obvious Brandon didn’t think it was even a question he would be in the photo the entire time. “Then I started thinking, with him going off to college, this could be our last family photo with all of us together. All of a sudden, it started getting very emotional for me. I told him that and said, ‘I want to get one with just me and him because it could be our last.’”
“He just said, ‘Why’s that, Mama G? I can come home for this every year. We’re family.”
Contact Bill Broderick (269) 966-0678 or [email protected] . Follow him on Twitter @billbroderick