EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Travis Rudolph has overcome the odds, tragedy and disappointment in the past four months to put himself on the verge of making the New York Giants.
The 21-year-old rookie free agent from Florida State is days away from the NFL’s final cut, and his chances of making the team look good. All he has done since reporting to camp late last month is make plays in practice. His six catches in three preseason games are tied for the team lead, and his 111 yards receiving and 18.5 yard average are tops on the team.
However, his play is only half the story.
Rudolph, who was best known in college for sitting with an autistic child at lunch during a school visit, probably has the most compelling story of any of the team’s free agents.
His father was accidentally fatally shot at work in mid-April. The following weekend, the junior who had left school to enter the NFL draft endured the disappointment of going undrafted. He would sign with the Giants days later and attended all the offseason training events.
“It is an amazing ride, just to think about all that stuff that led up to everything,” Rudolph said Tuesday. “Just to be here now, shows how strong I am. I know I can do anything with what I have dealt with with my father passing right before the draft.”
This isn’t the first time Rudolph has beaten the odds. The West Palm Beach, Florida, resident said he made his high school varsity football team as a freshman and had 18 touchdowns that season. Heading into Florida State, he didn’t start right away but managed to break into the starting lineup for six games.
“It’s the same thing here, make the team and contribute,” he said.
While his confidence is high, Rudolph isn’t telling himself he has secured a roster spot, even though he impressed many by outjumping a defender for a pass and turning it into a 57-yard catch and run against the Jets on Saturday.
“I never get bigheaded,” Rudolph said. “My mom always told me to be humble, so I stay humble with everything. I just feel with every opportunity I have to make the best of it and show what I can do.”
Rudolph has helped himself with his play on special teams. He has averaged 22 yards on three kickoff returns and has handled punts well, although he has gotten few return yards.
“It would mean a lot,” Rudolph said of making the team. “It’s been like my No. 1 dream since I was a little boy. When I was 4 years old I wanted to play in the NFL. Now to be out here is just a blessing.”
Rudolph has impressed the coaches with his attention to detail, his technique and his ability to stay on the same back with the quarterbacks.
“Just somebody that’s very resilient,” Giants cornerback Eli Apple said of Rudolph. “He’ll make a mistake here and there, but he’ll never make the same mistake twice, kind of guy. He goes really hard. He has shown flashes of his ability, as you’ve seen in the game with a couple big plays. So, I think he’s a really electric guy.”
With a game to go against the Patriots on Thursday night in Massachusetts, Rudolph isn’t worried about trying to do too much in a last push to get a seat in the receivers’ room.
“You just have to come out here and enjoy time,” he said. “That’s all I am doing.”
NOTES: Coach Ben McAdoo would not reveal how he planned to divide the playing time Thursday. Starter Eli Manning did not play in the fourth game last year, so it’s unlikely he will play. … WR Odell Beckham Jr. continues to get treatment on his injured ankle and is making progress, the coach said. He has not practiced since being hurt a week ago Monday, so he likely will watch. It’s the same with injured LBs Keenan Robinson (concussion) and Mark Herzlich (stinger). … DE Owa Odighizuwa, a third-round draft pick in 2015, was waived a day after the NFL suspended him for the first four games of the regular season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)