By: Tony Patrick
When a collegiate wide receiver has 76 catches, 1474 yards, and 10 touchdowns in a season you would think that guy would be pretty high up on everyone’s draft board, right? Wrong that is not the case for DIII stand out Rudy Rudolph of Christopher Newport University. Rudolph’s numbers are in an elite class amongst the greats in his draft class. Compared to guys who got drafted in his class the numbers never lie.
Amari Cooper had 124 catches and 1727 yards, Justin Hardy had 121 catches and 1494 yards, Vince Mayle had 106 catches and 1438 yards, and Kevin White had 109 catches and 1447 yards. In 2014 stats these four wide receivers were the top four WRs in DI football. If Rudolph played as many games as the DI wide receivers there is no reason why he would not have blown those other guys numbers out of the water.
Born in Misawa, Japan, Clifford “Rudy” Rudolph Jr has not always been the football star we all come to know today. Growing up in Chesapeake, Va, the NFL was not even on the radar for the stand out wide receiver.
“I played football in my younger years (flag and peewee), I got cut from my middle school football team in the 7th grade. Going into high school, (Grassfield High School) I really just wanted to focus on playing basketball. I didn’t play football my freshman and sophomore year in high school (only played Volleyball and Basketball). My junior year in high school I finally decided to play football, I did not get much playing time but I took advantage of the times I was in. Senior year I made 1st Team All-District and 2nd Team All-Tidewater. After that season I still wasn’t sold on playing football in college because of my passion for basketball burned much deeper. Basketball didn’t go as planned then colleges started recruiting me to play football, didn’t receive a scholarship offer but got a few preferred walk-on spots. I decided to go to CNU because of the high possibility of playing right away.”
Rudolph arrived at CNU and became a true freshman coming in establishing a name for himself right away. His potential had started to rise and you could see all the coaches take notice to his growing talent. Freshman year was a great foundation to what would become of Rudolph and his growing talents posting 25 catches, 621 yards, and 7 touchdowns.
“I always knew I had potential to do something great but it really didn’t hit me until midway through my senior year when I had broken every CNU WR record and was battling for the most yards that season in all divisions (1,2 or 3). The end of senior year made me realize that there was a small chance that I could play after college. It took me awhile to actually really consider playing at the next level, being a D3 player the odds are already against you, so with the help of family and peers I told myself I should give it a shot. Kind of scary, it’s something that every kid dreams of and the thought of me being scouted to play at the next level was nerve-racking.”
That small chance became an instant reality when Rudolph got invited to a Pro Day! For those who do not know what a Pro Day is, it is when each university allows scouts to visit the campus and watch players participate in NFL drills that they would partake in the NFL Combine. Rudolph’s Pro Day was a problematic process and it took a lot of will and perseverance to overcome the obstacles in front of him.
“My situation for the Pro Day was very complicated. A month before the Pro Day were going to start, I was in Florida when I got the call that Taylor Heinicke, the star QB for Old Dominion University and now active on the Minnesota Vikings roster, needed wide receivers to catch passes from him at ODU’s Pro Day and would like for me to be one of the receivers. Excited about the call, I was ready to get back to Newport News to work on my game for probably the biggest day in my sports career. Weeks go by I don’t receive a call or e-mail back from the number that I was given that had all the details. So finally I contact my head coach and ask if he could maybe find out the info I needed for the Pro Day.”
While things were looking up for the CNU superstar, Rudolph still had to face major obstacles to reach his first and more than likely his last Pro Day.
“A few days later my coach (Kelchner) called me and said that the ODU’s head coach (Wilder) didn’t want another wide receiver from another school to come participate at the Pro Day because there were already 3 wide receivers from ODU that were participating and he didn’t want there to be a competition. That made me upset but then I thought to myself at the next level it’s all about business and that was a good business decision by their head coach.”
Even though the curve balls were being thrown at Rudolph he seemed to have a backup plan in mind. Scrambling around trying to figure out what to do next Rudolph turned to his agent to help him through this process.
“Next, I had to find another D1 school in the area that was having a Pro Day. My agent got in contact with William and Mary, who would be hosting one the same day as ODU. It was great timing because William and Mary had a heavily scouted Wide receiver Tre McBride who now plays for the Tennessee Titans. So this would be a great opportunity to go toe-to-toe with a player who had been invited to the actual NFL Combine. The bad thing was I found out that I would be going to the Pro Day, one day before. So it was unfortunate because I wasn’t as prepared for it as I could’ve been but I was just happy for the opportunity.”
The day has finally come, William and Mary’s Pro Day has arrived and the biggest stand out was Rudy Rudolph. Not because of his blazing speed, or his crisp route running, or his magnificent hands; it was because he was a DIII athlete on the field competing against DI athletes.
“The day of the Pro Day, my alarm went off and I just laid there staring at the ceiling thinking to myself today is going to be very interesting. Not only was I invited to the Pro Day but the kicker from my team, Mason Studer was also competing in it. Him and I both rode with our dad’s to Williamsburg,VA where the Pro Day was going to be held. Nervous as always, many thoughts were going through my mind. It really hit me when we finally pulled up to the stadium and there was an Eagles and Ravens scout sitting outside, at the time I knew everything I had accomplished came down to this one breezy Saturday morning. Mason and I had very good careers at CNU; he broke just about every kicking/punting record and I had broken every WR record and made 2nd Team All American. So I don’t think it was a mistake being there, just DIII doesn’t get as much recognition as the higher divisions. So when we got there we got checked in with all the other players, being a select few from DIII was a pretty good feeling. Most of the players being from William & Mary they gave us looks because of course they haven’t seen us before. The Pro Day starts, scouts having a small talk with me asking questions here and there, I’m answering the questions verbally but in my head I’m thinking wow a scout from the NFL is really talking to me. The headline guy was Tre McBride, most of the scouts were there to see him so I basically followed him around the whole day, whenever he went first I was right behind him. I ran the fastest 40 there with a 4.40 which caught many of the scouts by surprise. Mcbride didn’t run because he used his time that he did at the NFL combine of a 4.45. Now we finally get to the good part where the QB’s and WR’s run routes, the part of the day I was most excited about. As we start a route tree given to us by the Bengals WR coach, the QB who was there from another school was absolutely terrible throwing 12 out of the 40 passes in the dirt. Not only did he make himself look bad but the rest of the receivers trying to get there name out there. Except McBride, scouts were already knew what he was capable of what he could do, so it didn’t mean that much to him. I was very frustrated because I felt as if that drill messed up my chance at showing the scouts what I was capable of. My dad was there that day and he just told me to embrace it and be thankful that I got the opportunity, because there aren’t many DIII players in the country who would be participating in this event. So I’m still thankful for that opportunity.”
This Pro Day was a big day for Rudolph but not just him but for every DIII athlete in America. If Rudolph performs well then other guys from DIII schools will have the confidence to go out there and perform to the best of their abilities because you never know who is looking and you never know when you may get that big break.
By the way Rudolph’s numbers of 76 catches, 1474 yards, and 10 TDs were better than Tre McBride’s 64 catches, 809 yards, and 4 TDs in their senior years.