Even if you’re not a college football fan, odds are you’ve heard of Florida State wide receiver Travis Rudolph.
During a trip to a Florida middle school last August, Rudolph noticed Bo Paske, an autistic boy, sitting alone during lunch. Travis joined him for some pizza and the two forged a friendship. Rudolph later presented Paske with a personalized Seminoles jersey. His generous act went viral, and CBS’s segment on the story now has nearly one million views.
Rudolph’s play during his subsequent junior season garnered him even more attention. The wide receiver hauled in 56 receptions for 840 yards and 7 touchdowns, leading the Seminoles in every major receiving category. It’s safe to say Rudolph lived up to the hype at FSU, and boy was there hype. Not only did he enter the program as a five-star recruit, but he’s also the cousin of NFL legend Devin Hester. But being a five-star recruit doesn’t guarantee a stellar college career and an eventual place in the NFL. In fact, only about 44 percent of former five-star recruits get drafted at all.
By all indications, Rudolph will be one of the 44 percent. STACK caught up with him at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida—where he trained for the NFL Combine and his Pro Day—to find out more about his path to the pros.
*This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
STACK: You’re from West Palm Beach, Florida, an area with a strong football culture. Did you start playing the sport at a young age?
Travis Rudolph: I was the youngest of the camp in my neighborhood. All my friends were in high school when I was in elementary school. So I was always the underdog, competing with my friends. We played it all, basketball, football. The main sport was actually basketball. My mom and dad bought us a hoop that we put on the corner, and all of us would have big tournaments—one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three.
Do you think playing against older kids made you a better athlete?
Playing with those guys made me a lot better. I hate losing, so I was always trying to dominate every time I went out there to compete.
When did football eclipse basketball as your favorite sport?
I was 7 years old when I first started playing football. It took a couple years of me playing outside with the guys to see that football was my sport, that football was what I really love. I still like basketball, but not as much as football. I loved football because it’s more of a contact sport and you could play a lot of different positions. I just had more fun playing it.
Do you have training memories from your younger days, getting up early to hit the gym or something akin?
Yeah, during summer time, me and my friends in my age group would go out to the beach. The beach was only like two minutes away from us. So we’d go out there, early mornings, and get a lot of workouts in. During high school, I worked out a lot with my high school basketball coach, Tavarus Harris. He had his own little training company, Harris Athletics. He trained me all throughout spring ball. He helped me a lot with my core strength and my agility.
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Former NFL player Devin Hester is your cousin. Do you have any memories of him and his influence on you growing up?
His influence was just him being himself. We didn’t have a ton of contact. I wanted him to focus on his career like I focus on mine. But he reached out to me during my college career and we’re still in contact now. He gave me pointers on how to handle the whole college process. After one of my big games, he reminded me to be careful with agents. He said they’re going to call and tell you everything you want to hear, but just to focus on football.
You played at Cardinal Newman High School, a program that’s produced a number of NFL players. Do you have a favorite game from your time there?
It was definitely against Kings Academy my senior year. It was the same day that it was announced I’d be in the Under Armour All-American game. I had a blast that game. Really, I couldn’t be stopped. They’re our rivals, so that was my favorite. (Rudolph totaled 204 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns in Newman’s 35-7 victory.)
You were a five-star recruit coming out of high school, which comes with some expectations. How much pressure did you feel when you came to FSU as a five-star?
I honestly didn’t see it as pressure. Coming into it, I knew all those [rankings] get wiped out when you come on campus. You still have to prove yourself. So I took it like I was a one-star recruit and I was trying to earn a spot.
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How much better are you as a player leaving FSU than when you arrived?
I grew a lot. All through high school, I was going through on talent. But it’s the little inches you fight for in college. Learning where to be at the right time, getting your timing right, all that. Knowing how to read a defense. I didn’t read defenses at all coming out of high school. Now, I fully understand what a Cover 2 is, a Cover 6, a Cover 5, all those defenses.
I know you garnered a lot of media attention for the friendship you forged with Bo Paske. How do you remember the day you met him?
Honestly, I was just doing a lot of community service [at that time]. I enjoy doing community service and I’m going to continue to do it. But we were at the school, and the teacher and principal told us to walk around and introduce ourselves, tell them who we were. So it was kinda toward the end of the day, and I was hungry at the time. I grabbed a couple slices of pizza, and I saw Bo sitting there, so I asked him if I could sit down. He said, “sure, why not?” He introduced himself to me, “hey, my name’s Bo. What’s your name?” From there, we went to town and started chopping it up.
You’re here at IMG Academy preparing for the NFL Combine and your Pro Day. What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned so far?
How to give better interviews is the main thing. But really, everything. From football to how to be a great person off the field, it’s all about little details. Being on time. Little stuff like that can take you a long way. I’ve also definitely seen improvements in my speed. (Note: Rudolph recently clocked a 4.52 40-Yard Dash at FSU’s Pro Day.)
Has your football IQ increased here at IMG?
[I’ve] been learning different concepts and formations. But it’s very similar to Florida State. Florida State is a pro-style offense. That’s what they run in the NFL. One thing I’ve noticed that’s very similar between what I’m learning at IMG and what we did at FSU is the actual routes being called. Like 678 in the NFL playbook was “Cat Volunteer” for us at FSU. That’s basically a dig on the back side and a corner and a post on the strong side.
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How has your nutrition changed since you arrived at IMG?
Eating healthier, you can recover better. You can go out and give your full performance, no matter how hard you went the previous day. That’s been the biggest thing I’ve learned nutritionally. In college, I ate a lot of Popeye’s. I didn’t have too many veggies, it was mostly meat. A lot of protein. Here, I definitely eat vegetables every day.
Where do you picture yourself during draft weekend?
I picture myself with my whole entire family on my mom’s side. We all stay pretty close together. We’ll probably be at my uncle Michael’s house—that’s my favorite uncle, really. I hope my other uncles don’t see this, but uncle Michael, we’re really close. [When my name’s called], it’s gonna be full of excitement. I’m probably going to be in tears, because I’ve always dreamed of this moment. Getting my name called on TV and getting that phone call from one of the GMs who’s welcoming me to their team.
If you could offer one piece of advice to young athletes, what would it be?
Stay focused on school. In terms of sports, do the little things that can separate you from the rest. Everyone’s out here working hard. If you want to be elite as a player, you have to train like an elite player.