Travis Rudolph was in coach Jimbo Fisher’s doghouse last August before busting out and leading Florida State’s receivers during the season. Now, Rudolph already has taken steps to make sure he’s in Fisher’s good graces the entire season and the coach has noticed.
“He’s not had one poor day in the offseason,” Fisher said. “He was up front in every drill, busting his tail and playing as hard as I’ve seen him play since he’s been here. And I think that was a maturity step.”
Rudolph, a Cardinal Newman graduate, recovered from his slow start to lead Florida State with 59 receptions, 916 yards and seven receiving touchdowns last season. But nobody came away satisfied with his or the position’s production.
The receivers — despite Rudolph, Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield each surpassing 50 receptions — were inconsistent. Rudolph recognizes that, citing a lack of concentration and being anxious to run with the ball as a reason for an unacceptable amount of drops on his part.
Because of that, he said he entered this offseason with something to prove.
“The main thing is staying focused, locking in and having a great spring to carry on to the summer,” said Rudolph, who will be a junior in the fall. “And then to carry on into the fall.”
Most believe the 6-foot-1, 189-pound Rudolph has the talent and disposition for FSU to transition seamlessly from the Rashad Greene era. Green, whose final season was in 2014, is the program’s all-time leading receiver and was an unparalleled leader.
Rudolph, in fact, is every bit a match to Greene when it comes to physical skills and he even has a similar personality that lends to being a leader through example.
“He’s always had talent and he’s played well and had some really good games,” Fisher said. “But consistency is what makes great players.”
Rudolph, Palm Beach County’s Lou Groza Awards High School Player of the Year following his senior season at Cardinal Newman High, had wild swings last season. After three consecutive games with fewer than 40 receiving yards each, he caught five passes for 191 yards and three touchdowns against Syracuse.
He concluded the season with one catch for 22 yards at Florida before hauling in seven for a career-best 201 yards in the Peach Bowl loss to Houston.
Rudolph says 200 yard games are great, but it’s about more than that.
“It’s about helping my team win (and) being consistent,” he said.
Defensive end DeMarcus Walker, also one of the 2016 team leaders but more outgoing than Rudolph, takes some credit in Rudolph’s coming out against Syracuse. Walker gave Rudolph a pep talk that week as the two went out for dinner before watching a sorority football game, telling him he was “way more talented” than he had shown.
The low point for Rudolph was the week before Syracuse, the loss at Georgia Tech that snapped FSU’s 28-game ACC winning streak. Rudolph could not hold onto a potential game-clinching touchdown pass from Everett Golson in the fourth quarter, the ball popping out and being intercepted in the end zone. The turnover led to the Yellow Jackets’ game-tying field goal.
Then, Rudolph could not grab a short pass that would have cut 5 yards off Roberto Aguayo’s potential game-winning field goal. The 56-yard attempt was blocked and returned for the winning touchdown as time expired.
Rudolph is not the only receiver the Seminoles are looking to be more consistent. FSU returns all nine scholarship receivers from last season. While Rudolph, Wilson and Whitfield have the inside track to starting jobs, more is expected out of Ermon Lane, Ja’Vonn Harrison, George Campbell and Auden Tate.
“We always talk about it,” Rudolph said about the group and its potential. “We want a Wide Receiver U here. We just have to play that way.”
Rudolph then was asked if he thought the sky was the limit for the receivers.
“It’s past the sky,” he said, “it’s like going to the moon really.”