No Lansing area high school athlete from the last quarter-century was more revered or hyped at the time he played than Randy Kinder.
There is no one in that era, other than perhaps Marcus Taylor, that Michigan State fans wanted more than the East Lansing running back, who led the Trojans to a state championship as a junior in 1991 before rushing for a then-state-record 2,464 yards a senior.
Back then, however, Notre Dame was Notre Dame — Galloping Ghosts through Raghib Ismail. MSU didn’t win recruiting battles against the Golden Dome. The Spartans didn’t get Kinder.
Twenty-five years after Kinder paced that state title run and two decades after he finished a productive though somewhat unsatisfying career at Notre Dame, Kinder is locked in for this weekend. He plans to be in South Bend, Indiana, for the Spartans’ Saturday night kickoff with his beloved Irish.
“I’ve tried to get the State game whenever it’s in South Bend,” Kinder said this week.
Kinder is 41 now, a father to 2-year-old Fiona, a husband to Erin Blake, an MSU graduate whom he met years after college in Washington, D.C., where they reside today. Kinder works as an investment trust coordinator for AFL-CIO. His football days, including a cup of tea in the NFL, are long over.
But in East Lansing, Randy Kinder will forever be a running back. Or, to some, a track star. His 100-meter dash time of 10.4 seconds remains an Honor Roll meet record.
He can still take you through those 1991 and ’92 seasons at East Lansing — the loss to Sexton as a junior, to his track rival and future Spartan Octavis Long, the difficult win over Jackson that allowed for a playoff berth as a 7-2 team, and the defense that became the catalyst of that title run, allowing 13 total points in four playoff rounds.
“We didn’t know how good we’d be,” said Kinder, who hopes to get back to an East Lansing game in October — his godson Quentin Jackson is on this year’s team. “And then our running game came together, but more than anything, our defense really came together. Back in ’90s, the CAC (Capital Area Conference) was still Sexton, East Lansing, they were powerhouses. Grand Ledge became one. We had some serious beefs with each team. We had history. We had a lot of fun.
“What I remember most about those teams is just the friendships more than anything else. We had just a great group of guys and coaches.”
If Kinder had stayed home and attended MSU, he’d have played for George Perles and likely Nick Saban. Of course, if the “Back to the Future” films have taught us anything, it’s that if you change one part of history, you mess with the rest. Perhaps, instead, he would have helped save the Perles era, which would have meant no Saban and, by extension, probably no Mark Dantonio. So all’s well.
MSU’s chances at Kinder ended at the 1992 Notre Dame football banquet. There, Kinder, on his official recruiting visit, was spellbound at the sight of Notre Dame’s seniors. He hadn’t grown up a Notre Dame fan or really a college football fan.
“My biggest college football impression was the Rose Bowl run at Michigan State (in 1987),” Kinder said. “So Notre Dame was always, you knew about it, but I had no idea where South Bend was. I had heard of the Four Horseman, but didn’t know really what that was.”
Kinder went down for the Michigan-Notre Dame game as senior in high school, a 17-17 tie. Irish running back Reggie Brooks was knocked out as he scored a touchdown. “That stuck with me,” Kinder said.
Three months later, he was in a room with Rick Mirer and Demetrius DeBose at the banquet, “These kind of grown men wearing their ‘dress-ay’, as coach Holtz used to call it, with jacket and tie, who were all going to play in the NFL and who all comported themselves with just the utmost dignity.
“It was winter in South Bend, but it was a place where I saw myself. I said, ‘I want to be like those guys.’ I could feel it almost immediately. All the hype around the school, I got it in one instant. I was sold.”
Kinder’s career at Notre Dame wasn’t as extraordinary as he hoped or as many expected, but, in hindsight, it was pretty damn good.
Kinder rushed for 2,295 yards in four seasons — 537 as a true freshman, 702 as a sophomore and 809 as junior, before an early injury and the emergence of sophomore Autry Denson derailed his senior year. Kinder, 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, averaged 5.7 yards a carry for his career, playing on Holtz’s final four teams at Notre Dame.
He was a key player on Notre Dame’s 1993 squad — the Irish’s last gasp of old-school greatness — a group that, while ranked No. 2, beat No. 1 Florida State in mid-November only to lose a shot at the national championship the following week in an upset loss to Boston College.
“I remember after that season thinking, ‘Well, it’ll be like this every year,’” Kinder said. “‘We’re going to be playing for the national championship. We’ve got plenty of time. All the guys I came in with are five-star (recruits). All that junk. So this will just be how it is.’ And the next year we went 6-5-1 or something like that.”
Then 9-3, followed by 8-3. Then Kinder, and Holtz, were done.
“I look back on it fondly, but there were definitely missed opportunities,” Kinder said. “I certainly learned from it. And do not for a second regret any of my choices (about going to Notre Dame). I regret some things I did while was I was there. Notre Dame continues to be a fantastic boon to me in my career and life going forward. But yeah, you always want to do more.
“I let myself get distracted while I was in school, and had a couple silly and stupid off-field things that were well within my control but that I allowed to get out of hand. And so ended up having to miss time for one reason or another. Academics, social and athletic balance was something that I struggled with throughout in college. It’s certainly something I’ve taken into my life today, making sure there’s the right balance and I’m making the right decisions.”
Kinder saw the beginnings of Notre Dame’s slide from dominance. He could tell things had changed by his senior year.
And, for years after he left, he didn’t feel part of the program. And, for years after he left, he felt like his entire era had been swept out with Holtz.
“It was (a feeling) that a lot of guys shared for some time after that era ended, the Holtz era,” Kinder said. “Because many of us we lost contact with the program for a few years. It was a line of demarcation from era to era.
“It was actually Coach Holtz who brought a lot of us back to Notre Dame. Back in the mid-2000s, we had a reunion where a good deal of us who had played under him re-embraced the university and the football program.”
That group will meet again Friday night at the annual Lou’s Lads Foundation Reunion.
Among the friends Kinder expects to see this weekend are a few from the MSU side, friendships he never lost when the big-time hometown kid decided to go a couple hours south.
“Most of the guys who were in that class (at MSU) were guys I know very well from either the recruiting process or playing against them,” Kinder said. “It always felt like I was welcomed when I was home to see those guys.”
They met on the field in 1993 and ’94, both Notre Dame wins, 36-14 in South Bend and then 21-20 in East Lansing. After the win at MSU, Holtz let Kinder stay back and hang with friends, several from the MSU team he’d just beaten. “It was a good time,” he said, reluctant to give too many details.
He still holds his 2-0 record over his MSU friends. The two decades since haven’t been as kind to his side of the rivalry.
“That damn ‘Little Giants’ play (in 2010) or whatever it was almost gave me a heart attack,” Kinder said. “This game to me is my Super Bowl every year, just watching, whenever we play State. It’s a big one.”
Contact Graham Couch at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.