- By Sam Howard Special to The Post
The Cardinal Newman High School sign read: “Welcome back alum Travis Rudolph.” Special programs for the Crusaders boys’ basketball game bore a similar message.
With a standing ovation, the game crowd made it even more evident: They were proud to have their former football standout back Thursday night to place his jersey in the school trophy case.
After an up-and-down year that saw Rudolph lose his father in a tragic accidental shooting, but then get his start in the NFL — the feeling from the New York Giants wide receiver was mutual.
It was good to be back.
“Every time I come back here, I feel the energy,” Rudolph said.
Barely a year has passed since the 2014 Cardinal Newman alum chose to leave Florida State early and declare for the NFL Draft. About a week before the draft, his father, Darryl, was killed.
After going undrafted, Rudolph signed as a free agent with the Giants. Looking back, Rudolph said he was justified in leaving school early.
“I just felt like I was ready and honestly, I feel like that wasn’t a bad decision,” Rudolph said. “Like, if I had to do it over, I would do the exact same thing.”
The star power of the Giants’ roster, namely quarterback Eli Manning and wide receiver Odell Beckham, was among the reasons he chose to sign with the franchise.
It was a winding road to the Giants’ active roster among the team’s stars. Rudolph was waived at one point and did a stint on the team’s practice squad.
After the team was hit by several injuries at receiver, Rudolph was activated and played in seven games, making eight receptions for 101 yards.
His old coach at Cardinal Newman, Steve Walsh, said he tried to stay in touch with Rudolph throughout his first season in the NFL.
Walsh, who is now a senior assistant for the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League, said he’s been impressed with Rudolph’s dedication.
“So much of the NFL is where and how you get in,” Walsh said. “… Travis had to kind of grind through.”
But Walsh, who helped introduce Rudolph to the crowd during the halftime ceremony Thursday, cautioned the young receiver that he’ll need to keep putting in the work — especially now that the franchise has changed head coaches.
“You’ve got to prove yourself all over again,” Walsh said.
Rudolph said he’s sticking with the Giants “until they say otherwise.” Over the course of one season with the team, he thinks he’s learned a lot, especially about little aspects of his play.
“You learn little details … how (defensive backs) really think, like, in the league, everything like that,” Rudolph said. “Basically, staying disciplined in my routes, keeping my head up, so I don’t give off, you know, when I’m about to break down.”
After seeing what the NFL has to offer, Rudolph said he’s confident he has a place in the league for years to come.
“I got it,” Rudolph said. “I got what it takes to be a great NFL player.”
From Walsh’s perspective, that much was clear early on in Rudolph’s high school career at Newman. He said he remembers the young receiver voluntarily hitting the weight room in the offseason and then, “the sky was the limit at that point.”