TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Travis Rudolph finished his sophomore season with the strongest performance of his career. But it’s awfully hard to tell by talking to him. Asked which games stick out from the 2015 campaign, Rudolph, now a junior receiver on the Florida State football team, matter-of-factly responded: “The games we lost, really. I always feel like I can do something better to help the team win.”
That includes the season finale in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, where, despite seven catches, 201 yards and a touchdown from Rudolph, the Seminoles lost to Houston, 38-24.
In Rudolph’s mind, if his efforts weren’t enough to deliver a victory for FSU, then they weren’t enough, period.
So as he approaches his third season, Rudolph is focused on taking things up another notch. In his case, that means becoming more dependable, week in and week out.
“Consistency” has long been one of FSU coach Jimbo Fisher’s favorite buzzwords, and it applies plenty to Rudolph.
His highs a year ago were plenty high. Rudolph led the team with 59 catches, 916 yards and seven receiving touchdowns, and he had five games with at least six catches and 50 yards.
The lows, however, were at times just as noticeable. He had only one catch against Florida, three against Miami and, most painfully, two in a loss at Georgia Tech.
In that game, Rudolph missed a chance at a game-sealing touchdown catch and instead tipped the ball to a Georgia Tech defender for an interception. A few moments later, he couldn’t hang on to a pass that would’ve shortened Roberto Aguayo’s game-winning field goal attempt. The kick was blocked and the Yellow Jackets returned it for a touchdown as time expired.
“I definitely took it hard,” he said at the time.
Fisher compared consistency on the football field to a student who aces a test, then, satisfied with that result, lets up on the next.
“Guys are used to doing it for a little bit and then they’ll get relief syndrome,” Fisher said. “They make an ‘A’ on a test, (then say) ‘If I make a ‘C’ on the next test, I’ll still get a ‘B.’
“It’s just human nature … to give everything and then (you think) you get a break. No, you don’t. Go do it again, and at a higher level.”
So Rudolph’s goal for 2016 is simple: Reach that higher level, and do it every time out.
“The main thing is staying focused, locking in and having a great spring to carry on into the summer,” Rudolph said. “And from the summer, carry on into the fall.”
Cutting out drops is tops on Rudolph’s list of priorities.
Although drops aren’t an official NCAA stat, Rudolph knows he had more than enough. The result, he said, of trying to turn up field and run before securing the ball.
“Just a lack of concentration,” he said.
Beyond that, Rudolph is refining his routes, brushing up on his playbook and, perhaps most importantly, making sure his fellow receivers do the same.
Although Rudolph, Bobo Wilson and Kermit Whitfield make up a trio of valuable upperclassmen receivers, the Seminoles will likely rely this season on a few new faces.
That could mean bigger roles for juniors Ermon Lane and Ja’Vonn Harrison, or it could open the door for highly-touted sophomores George Campbell, Auden Tate or Nyqwan Murray to work their way into the rotation. (A fourth sophomore, Da’Vante Phillips, is out for the spring after groin surgery.)
Regardless of who seizes his opportunity, Fisher said that Rudolph has taken it upon himself to show them the ropes.
Despite his quiet demeanor, it’s a role that apparently suits Rudolph well.
“He had not one bad, poor day in the offseason,” Fisher said. “He was up front in every drill, busting his tail, playing as hard as I’ve seen him play since he’s been here. That was a maturity step.”
Florida State’s defensive backs have seen a change as well.
“He’s coming out of his shell, talking now, and people are listening to him,” sophomore safety Derwin James said.
“He may be the best receiver,” senior safety Nate Andrews added. “He’s being more vocal. He’s fast – he may not seem that fast, but when he comes off the ball, he’s explosive.”
Rudolph, for his part, smiles when asked about what awaits the receiving corps.
He said they have designs on stretching the field – taking some heat off of star running back Dalvin Cook in the process – and making it easy on whoever lines up under center for the Seminoles this fall.
The only thing left is to put it all together.
“We’re like the ‘Wide Receiver U’ here. We’ve just got to play that way,” Rudolph said. “All these kids are talented, as well as myself. (The potential) is past the sky. It’s like going to the moon.”