If Randon Richards can lead BYU's men's cross country team to the NCAA Championships this November in Bloomington, Indiana, it will be twice nostalgic.
First, 33 years ago his father, Bob, won the national title in the steeplechase in that same town. And second, as a freshman Randon helped the Cougars to their last and best finish ever in the 1993 NCAA Championships.
The bloodlines for the 5-9 BYU senior from Berthoud, Colo., also trace back to his grandfather's uncle Alma Richards, the 1912 Olympic gold medalist and to former Michigan Governor George Romney, his father's first cousin.
Randon, a computer engineering major, has no political ambitions, has never run the steeplechase like his dad or high jumped like Alma. Randon helped BYU to the 1993 second place finish in the NCAA Championships when he finished as the team's fifth scoring runner.
"There was something different about the guys on that team," says Randon in reflecting back on that 1993 team. "They were dedicated, highly-motivated, and I remember the impact of seeing the emotion of those seniors.
"I know we have that same calibre of runners this year compared to when I was on that team as a freshman. I want a repeat year."
Randon remembers being in awe during that 1993 NCAA Championship race at Lehigh University. He couldn't spot any of his teammates after the starter's gun sounded. He was stunned to find more experienced teammate Craig Lawson struggling, but felt strong enough to pass him.
Teammate Jason Pyrah was the first Cougar across the finish line in those 1993 NCAA Championships. Pyrah was a two-time All-American in cross country who haled from Missouri, just like Richards.
Richards, who was born in Phoenix, Ariz., prepped in Blue Springs, Mo., and spent his junior high years in West Virginia because of his father's moves in the Air Force. Richards was a two time Missouri state cross country champion in high school and never lost a cross country race those two seasons. He was recruited by Kansas and Arkansas, the team who won that 1993 NCAA title.
"Randon had a super performance as a freshman," said BYU Coach Sherald James of that 1993 NCAA meet. "He steadily improved all year and was the one who made a difference for us in the meet."
Richards takes an "awe shucks'" approach to his contribution to the 1993 runnerup NCAA team.
"I felt more devoted to do well, not for myself, but for my team," says Richards. "If I run for myself I usually sell myself short, but it is for the team then that is a higher purpose."
His training regimen ranges from workouts of 100 miles a week during the summer, contrasted to jogging to the Smith Fieldhouse with his wife, the former Emily Burton. She then runs laps inside at the same time Randon logs more lengthy and arduous miles outdoors. Like Randon, she is also a returned missionary, but she served in France and Randon served in the Belo Horizonte Mission in Brazil.
Stories from Randon's father sparked his interest in running as a fifth-grader. Randon has yet to visit the plaque in the Cougar Room indicating his father was enshrined as a 1977 member of the BYU Athletic Hall of Fame.
His father, whose name is sometimes confused with decathlete Bob Richards of Wheaties cereal box fame, finished in the top 20 of the 1967 NCAA Cross Country Championships and as a sophomore won the 1966 NCAA steeplechase championship in a time of 8:51.6. In that race, BYU's Bob Richards finished five places ahead of Oregon's Kenny Moore, now a premier track writer for Sports Illustrated. Bob Richards led eight Cougars who achieved All-America status in that 1966 NCAA track meet when BYU finished second to UCLA
Another of his dad's stories which motivates Randon are those from two different U.S. Olympic Trials. As an accomplished collegian, Randon's father was overlooked and had to clean toilets to earn his keep until officials apologized for the oversight. For the 1972 Trials, his father trained for only three months after a three-and-one-half-year respite.
While Randon's individual achievements aren't yet to the level of his father's BYU glory, the Cougar senior has contributed several times in addition to that 1993 NCAA runnerup finish.
In 1998 he finished runnerup at the WAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships in the 10,000 meters at Houston, Texas. Since returning from his mission, he had never competed in the 10K during track season.
"I told my teammates that I would just stick by them and hold on for the finish," says Randon. "After the first half of the race I was feeling good and in the front of the pack. I picked up the pace during the last four laps and came close to the runner who had taken the lead from the beginning of the race.
"I was wasted for the 5,000 the next day, even though I had trained all year for it. The 5,000 is really my event."
Last Fall he was selected as WAC Runner of the Week in Cross Country after he was the Cougars' highest finisher at the Stanford Invitational in California, but he didn't learn of the honor until his parents surfed the internet and phoned him.
"That was my race which was the most fun," says Randon. "I had run the course twice before. It is quite hilly and deceiving. I stayed in the front of the pack and was surprised to be among the frontrunners.
"I knew where my weaknesses were on the course. Because I was prepared I was able to pass a couple runners and I was even in first place for a while as we ran down hills."
The last two WAC Championship races in his new home state of Colorado in 1999 did not bring anticipated results. Last May he struggled for breath with an asthma condition at the WAC Outdoor Championships at Fort Collins.
Last February at Colorado Springs Randon didn't even get to run because of a fever, flu, and a sore throat that made him bedridden after his arrival to compete in the WAC Indoor Track Championships.
Instead his parents took him home to recuperate and he had to rework his plane ticket to fly back a day later than the team.
But his interest is more in cross country than on the track.
"I love running courses because every place is different. In cross country you race more against a person than against the clock. I like to run in a pack and have someone to challenge me. That helps a lot in a long distance race."
BYU is the only place where Randon has met someone else with the same first name - a fellow student in a Physics 122 class. This season Randon is hoping to put that first name, the Richards surname and the Cougars back on top. With NCAA Cross Country Championship experience from Richards, Matt Poulsen (1998), and Mark Lawson (1994), the Cougars could make a run so that another Richards can compete in Bloomington.