Florida State junior receiver Travis Rudolph led the Seminoles in catches, receiving yards and touchdown receptions last season.
His goal this season is simple: Become more of a leader.
Rudolph has always been the lead-by-example type. His voice rarely rises above the conversational tone.
“I just realized that’s the role I have to play,” Rudolph said. “I feel like I definitely had to grow into it. Now it’s just natural.”
The former Cardinal Newman standout — who gained national attention last week when he befriended an autistic student while visiting a Tallahassee middle school — is a naturally talented receiver. A strong route-runner who can turn short gains into big plays with his ability to shed would-be tacklers, Rudolph caught 59 passes for 916 yards and seven touchdowns in a 2015 season that saw him emerge as FSU’s top receiver.
But coach Jimbo Fisher and receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey have asked for more from Rudolph. They want him to mentor and be vocal around a young receiving corps that includes four talented sophomores — Auden Tate, George Campbell, Nyqwan Murray and Da’Vante Phillips — as well as freshman Keith Gavin.
“He’s learning how to be professional on the field and off the field for us, taking care of his body, trying to be a leader,” Dawsey said. “He’s always worked hard on the field, but he’s definitely more mature, paying more attention to details.
“He’s taken that next step, so I’m anxious to see him this season.”
Rudolph missed about a week of preseason camp because of a minor hamstring injury but said he has felt good since his return. Even while he was out, Rudolph helped coach the younger receivers.
“When you see it from the sideline, you can see it from the coaches’ point of view,” Rudolph said. “I was just helping them out with route-running, key assignments to all of the plays.”
Rudolph enjoys his role as mentor but he’s also focusing on improving his skills. One area he needs to improve: he had nine drops in 2015, according to a film review by Pro Football Focus.
He also can improve on his consistency.His 2015 numbers were skewed by breakout games against Syracuse (five catches, 191 yards, three touchdowns) and Houston (seven catches, 201 yards, one touchdown). That’s 42.7 percent of his 2015 receiving yards in two games.
“I feel like there’s always room for improvement,” Rudolph said. “Right now I’m not satisfied with my route-running. I just want to be an elite route-runner. Just got to work on my craft with everything — that’s blocking, catching, route-running.”
Rudolph is a perfectionist, critical of his talents. But he’s already a tough one-on-one matchup for FSU’s best corner.
“I like guarding Travis,” senior Marquez White said. “He’s our best receiver. He’s one of the best receivers in the nation, in the conference. Every day, I get to compete against him. … He’s great with his routes. He’s gotten a lot smarter, he’s watched a lot of film. He runs his routes off leverage. You can tell he’s matured a lot.”
An All-ACC preseason pick, Rudolph is continuing to develop and improve. His career arc is similar to former FSU star Rashad Greene, who Rudolph has often been compared to since he arrived on campus two years ago. Through the first two years of their careers, the statistical comparison between Rudolph (97 catches, 1,471 yards, 11 TDs) and Greene is (95 catches, 1,337 yards, 11 TDs) is nearly identical.
Rudolph clearly has a long way to go to catch up to Greene, who finished as FSU’s career leader in receptions (270) and receiving yards (3,830) and now plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars. But Dawsey feels there are a number of similarities between the two receivers.
“Just watching how Travis carried himself and the success he’s had on the field and in the classroom, I’m definitely seeing that type of situation when Rashad was here,” Dawsey said. “Travis is in that same mold, heading in that same direction.”