He chose to leave college after three seasons, but no one selected him in the seven-round NFL Draft. Rudolph signed with the Giants as a free agent, and this weekend is getting his first taste of the NFL in the team’s minicamp.
>> MINICAMP PRACTICE NOTES
“I definitely have a chance,” he said. “I have confidence in myself, and that is why I chose to come here. I know that they have great receivers. But I feel like I am a great receiver as well, so I have confidence in myself to make this team.”
Rudolph caught 153 passes for 2,311 yards and 18 touchdowns in college. But it’s what he did off the field that made him such a beloved figure.
Last Aug. 30, several Florida State players visited Montford Middle School in Tallahassee. When they entered the crowded cafeteria at lunchtime, Rudolph saw a boy eating by himself at a large table. So he walked over and sat down with Bo Paske, an 11-year-old sixth grader with autism who often ate alone at lunch.
“When I sat down, we pretty much kicked it off,” Rudolph said. “He opened up to me. He asked me what my name was, I told him I’m Travis and he told me who he was. He told me that he was a big fan of Florida State. We just went from there.
“A lot of people give me credit for doing what I did, even though I just see it as that is me. Everyone else saw it as a big deal, so I guess I can take it as a big deal. A lot of people get recognized for the bad stuff, but I like to be good.”
And recognized he was. A photo was taken of Rudolph eating a slice of pizza while sitting across the table from Paske. Bo’s mother Leah posted the photo on Facebook with a heartfelt message of thanks. The photo and missive went viral, making Rudolph a folk hero.
“It blew up like right after the day I did it,” Rudolph said. “Right before I went out to practice, Derrick Coles (FSU’s director of compliance) had given me the paper of what she wrote. When I got back, my phone was just buzzing with media, Twitter, everything. I (got) like 10,000 followers on Instagram. I was like, ‘Wow.’ A couple of NFL guys hit me up on Twitter and congratulated me.”
But the response that meant the most to him was Bo’s.
>> ROOKIES TAKE FIRST STEPS TO ROSTER SPOT
“Him just telling me that he loves me and just saying that I am his friend forever put a smile on my face,” Rudolph said.
Rudolph sat with Paske for about 15 minutes, but that was just the beginning of the story. Florida State gave Bo and Leah season tickets. Bo was given a Florida State jersey with Rudolph’s No. 15 and “Paske” on the back.
When Rudolph’s sister hosted a two-day draft party for about 60 people in West Palm Beach, Bo and Leah were among the guests.
“We talk to each other pretty regularly,” Rudolph said. “His mom is close with my mom now. She texts me every so often and tells me good luck with everything.
“(The party) was super big. My sister stays in a gated community. Basically, she stays on a corner so the whole street was backed up. It was full of cars.”
That the Rudolph family could hold a draft party was remarkable in itself, because they certainly weren’t in a celebratory mood. On April 24, just three days before the first round of the draft, Rudolph’ father, Darryl, was killed in an accidental shooting. Darryl Rudolph was working in a back storage room in a West Palm Beach building when a coworker, in an adjacent room, accidentally discharged a rifle while moving it off a shelf. The bullet traveled through the wall and struck Rudolph in the neck.
“It was tough,” Rudolph said in the Quest Diagnostics Training Center field house. “I cried, I couldn’t believe it. But God makes everything happen for a reason. You just have to move on.”
Darryl was his son’s biggest supporter. In their final conversation, “He was telling me to stay confident in myself, because I know what I can do. He just said that he was very proud of me for everything that I had achieved so far and continued to achieve.”
After Travis had lunch with Bo Paske, his dad said he was “overwhelmed with joy” over his son’s kind gesture.
“He was the reason why I started playing football,” Rudolph said. “As a young boy, probably starting from age four, he was going outside and throwing the football with me and everything and he was just there for every game that I ever played. So rest in peace, Dad.”
After he wasn’t selected in the draft, Rudolph was contacted by five teams. He said choosing to join the Giants was an easy decision.
• The Giants made a series of transactions Saturday. They signed running back Khalid Abdullah, cornerback SaQwan Edwards and safety Trey Robinson. To make room on the roster, cornerback Nigel Tribune, wide receiver Robert Wheelwright and running back Daryl Virgies were waived.