'The one that wins': Why OSU football vs. Missouri State means more to Braden Cassity, family

Jacob Unruh

STILLWATER — Braden Cassity’s cell phone recently lit up with a picture and message that made him laugh.

The image was of him on a video screen, lined up in his No. 90 Oklahoma State jersey during a game last season.

“Man, you’re looking small,” the message read. “You need to do some bicep curls.”

Ahead of this weekend’s big game, Skyler Cassity wanted to get inside his little brother’s head. Throwing a digital jab was all in good fun because the brothers are tight. They talk often. They love football. They hunt and fish together.

But Saturday will be different. They will be on opposite sidelines.

As the Cowboys prepare to host FCS opponent Missouri State inside Boone Pickens Stadium, there may be nothing more meaningful than a key matchup between family. The Cassity brothers will be foes — Braden the Cowboys’ backup tight end and Skyler the Bears’ outside linebackers coach.

Cassity vs. Cassity, as it’s billed by their family.

“We’re competitors,” Braden said. “That’s just how it is, always trying to compete no matter what it is.”

Braden Cassity, left, and his older brother, Skyler, play on OSU's Lewis Field during the 2000 media day. Both will be on the field again Saturday, this time with Braden playing for the Cowboys and Skyler coaching for Missouri State.

The siblings have been on opposite sides before. Twice, Skyler came away victorious against OSU as a graduate assistant at Texas Tech. Braden was in his redshirt season the first meeting and was on the field at times in the second. 

The two have never gone directly against each other — until now.

And it’s on the same field they once roamed as young children.

Their father, Mike, was OSU’s co-defensive coordinator in 1999 and defensive coordinator in 2000, the final two years of Bob Simmons’ tenure. Their mother, Colleen Hartman Rambusch, worked for the Cowboys on TV and radio.

Now, the entire family will reunite as their long journey comes full circle.

“Obviously, it’ll forever be a part of our family,” Skyler said about OSU.

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‘Everybody has a path’

Skyler had a vision in his young, 7-year-old mind.

He moved one neighborhood kid just a little. He placed another in a different spot. 

His idea became a perfect football formation.

After Mike was hired at Illinois in 2001, Skyler designed plays with kids in the new neighborhood while most children built Lego towers.

“He’s like in first grade,” Rambusch said. “He’s drawing up plays and would sit and watch film.”

Skyler even designed a play and gave it to Illinois coach Ron Turner. It was so impressive that Illinois ran it in a game.

Growing up, Skyler loved football. He fell hard for lacrosse. He was also a math whiz.

It was still clear Skyler’s path was coaching.

He developed into a quarterback at Riverwood International Charter School in Atlanta. His level of knowledge about the game was rare.

But before his junior year, Skyler underwent major surgery for pectus excavatum, a condition in which the breastbone is sunken into the chest. His football playing days were finished.

“It just wasn’t in the cards,” Skyler said.

Skyler Cassity, right, talks on a headset on Riverwood International Charter School's sideline in 2009 at the Georgia Dome. Cassity, then a sophomore, played quarterback, but this was his last game due to a major medical procedure for pectus excavatum.

But Riverwood coach Robert Ingram wasn’t letting Skyler get away, making him into a student coach.

That led Skyler to spurn attending OSU as an engineering major. Instead, he became a student assistant and recruiting assistant at Auburn. He also played club lacrosse, a sport deemed medically safe.

“Everybody has a path,” Rambusch said.

Skyler Cassity, left, gives advice to his younger brother, Braden, during a 2006 little league game in Louisville. Skyler now coaches for Missouri State, while Braden plays for OSU.

Skyler moved to Texas State, where he went from defensive intern to graduate assistant in a year. He then spent three seasons at Texas Tech, working primarily with defensive backs, before joining the Missouri State staff last season.

With the Bears, Skyler’s path reconnected with his past.

Missouri State head coach Bobby Petrino hired Mike Cassity as defensive coordinator at Louisville, where they won two conference titles in three years. Defensive line coach L.D. Scott played for Petrino and Mike at Louisville. Inside linebackers coach Reggie Johnson also coached at Louisville with the two.

Even defensive coordinator Ryan Beard was a graduate assistant under Mike at Western Kentucky.

“We’re all connected in some way,” Skyler said. “You never know who’s going to cross paths or how you're all connected, but the coaching game is a tight-knit group.”

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‘The right thing to do’

Skyler’s message was simple and direct, even for his fifth-grade pupil.

Braden needed to hit somebody. He needed to be tough on the football field.

“Dude, you gotta blow somebody up,” Skyler told Braden.

That flipped a switch inside Braden. When big brother spoke, he listened.

“My brother was one of my biggest motivators,” Braden said.

Braden was already bigger than most kids his age. He became a force on the defensive line.

Before high school, Braden and his mom moved to Austin. He enrolled at Westlake High, which produced NFL star quarterbacks Drew Brees and Nick Foles among other NFL talent. Braden played with former Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger, too.

Braden was a star defensive linemen. He excelled at lacrosse, too. 

As a senior, he developed into the state’s defensive player of the year the same season future teammate and roommate Spencer Sanders was named the state’s offensive player of the year. That fall, Braden had 101 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks.

“He had a work ethic,” Mike Cassity said. “Some guys just try to please coaches by staying extra and things like that. Braden was never like that. He just worked hard to improve himself.”

Braden ultimately chose OSU over Wisconsin — both schools his dad coached — without taking an official visit. He doesn’t remember living in Stillwater. He moved there when he was just 6 days old and left two years later.

“It’s the perfect school for him,” Rambusch said.

Former Westlake High star Braden Cassity, center, is a gritty veteran with strong leadership qualities for Oklahoma State.

With the Cowboys, Braden has played in 24 games since redshirting in 2018. He began 2019 as a defensive end but moved to Cowboy back — OSU’s tight end position — during the season.

“Just over time, it was the right thing to do,” Braden said.

It was a surprise to some at first. But few doubted Braden.

“I know my brother is one of those that’s willing to do anything for the team,” Skyler said. “It happens all the time in college football. My brother just happened to be one of those guys.”

At 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, Braden has become a reliable blocker while working to improve his catching ability and route running.

OSU co-defensive coordinator Mike Cassity is pictured with his then wife, Colleen, and their two children, Braden, 5 1/2 months, and Skyler, 5, in 1999. The family will reunite Saturday when OSU hosts Missouri State. Braden plays for the Cowboys, while Skyler is Missouri State's outside linebackers coach.

He also finished his undergraduate degree in three years and is entering graduate school this semester. He was on the Academic All-Big 12 first team the past two seasons.

“I told him he’s there at Oklahoma State for three reasons,” Mike said. “No. 1, it’s to get a great education, which he made Academic All-Big 12. No. 2, you’re to excel at the highest level of Division I football there is. 

“And No. 3, if No. 1 or No. 2 slip, I’m going to come take your shotgun, your boat, your fishing rods and everything.

“He’s upheld his end of the bargain.”

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‘The one that wins’

Braden expects his parents to wear orange. After all, he secured their tickets to the game.

But it’s not that simple.

Rambusch plans to wear white and paint her fingernails both team colors. She and her husband, Bit, will sit with Spencer Sanders’ family, Braden’s girlfriend, Karoline, and her family, plus a few of Braden’s high school buddies.

“I’ll be rooting for both,” Rambusch said.

Mike wanted to wear an OSU shirt and a Missouri State hat, or vice versa. Both Braden and Skyler stopped that. 

After 42 years coaching at 17 different universities, Mike is ready to enjoy football from a different view. He plans to arrive early to join some friends tailgating. 

Then he’ll settle down to watch a football game with the best of both worlds for an old coach. Two of his sons competing against each other. He cannot lose.

“People keep asking me who I’m going to cheer for,” Mike said. “The one that wins. I really want them to do well.”

As for the brothers, it’s likely they’ll hug during pregame warmups. They’ll meet afterward and hopefully see family as well.

Skyler has been joking with his linebackers that their one mission is to make life hard for his brother. 

“It’s funny,” Skyler said. “Obviously, I want what’s best for him, just not on Saturday.”

Braden feels good about Saturday’s chances. He just hopes then he can get some jabs back at his brother, finally avenging those two losses.

“I’m excited to get him back,” Braden said. “Definitely have a little chip on my shoulder.”

Jacob Unruh covers college sports for The Oklahoman. You can send your story ideas to him at or on Twitter at @jacobunruh. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.