The range of emotions for Travis Rudolph has been intense, overwhelming at times. From the heartwarming moment when he received nationwide attention for a small gesture of kindness toward an autistic child last summer, to the accidental shooting death of his father last month, happiness has given way to unimaginable grief.
The former Florida State wide receiver is attempting to find a spot on the Giants’ roster, but he is doing so against the backdrop of tragedy. Rudolph’s father died on April 22 in an accidental shooting at a nightclub in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Darryl Rudolph, 55, was killed when a gun went off in an adjacent room as a co-worker was moving the weapon off a shelf. Rudolph was found inside a storage room with a gunshot wound to the back/neck area. After being transported to St. Mary’s Medical Center, he was pronounced dead.
It was only last August when Travis Rudolph was celebrated for noticing a child eating lunch alone as several Florida State players visited a middle school in Tallahassee. Rudolph sat across from the boy and ate a slice of pizza, engaging the child in conversation.
As it turned out, sixth-grader Bo Paske is autistic. A picture of the two eating lunch reached Paske’s mother, who wrote an emotional Facebook post detailing how special the interaction truly was.
“A friend of mine sent this beautiful picture to me today, and when I saw it with the caption ‘Travis Rudolph is eating lunch with your son,’ I replied, ‘Who is that?’ ’’ Leah Paske wrote. “He said ‘FSU football player,’ then I had tears streaming down my face . . .
“I’m not sure what exactly made this incredibly kind man share a lunch table with my son, but I’m happy to say that it will not soon be forgotten. This is one day I didn’t have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes. Travis Rudolph thank you so much, you made this momma exceedingly happy.”
The post went viral, and Rudolph was lauded for his kindness. The Paske family was there at Rudolph’s draft party earlier this month, and even though the fleet receiver wasn’t selected, it meant a lot.
After the sudden loss of his father, it was Rudolph who needed comforting.
“It was tough. I cried, couldn’t believe it,” Rudolph said of his father’s death. “But God makes everything happen for a reason. Just move on.”
Had it not been for Darryl Rudolph, Travis might not have been standing in the Giants’ training complex on Friday for his first practice as an NFL player.
“He was the reason I started playing football,” the soft-spoken Rudolph said of his father. “Just as a young boy, starting from age 4, just going outside, throwing the football with him. He was there for every game I would play. Rest in peace, dad.”
Rudolph remembers the last conversation about football he had with his father. “He just told me to stay focused and work hard, achieve my dreams, make them come true,” Rudolph said. “He was telling me to stay confident in myself, because I know what I can do. He said he was very proud of me for everything I achieved so far and to continue to achieve.”
There isn’t a player more worthy of rooting for to live out that dream. Though he went undrafted and signed with a team that’s already rich at the receiver position with Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and former Jets star Brandon Marshall, Rudolph believes he can make the team — just as another undrafted Giants free agent once did.
“Definitely, I feel like I have a chance,” Rudolph said when asked if he can stick with the Giants the way Victor Cruz did in 2010. “I have confidence in myself. That’s why I chose to come here. I know they have great receivers, but I feel like I’m a great receiver myself.”
There is no bigger supporter of Rudolph than Bo Paske. When Rudolph found out it was the Giants he’d be joining, Paske “shook my hand and said he’s a Giants fan.”
The fact that he wasn’t drafted is the least of Rudolph’s concerns. “I’m not frustrated at all,” said Rudolph, who had 153 catches for 2,311 yards and 18 touchdowns in three seasons at Florida State. “The Giants welcomed me in. I have a [football] family with me. Just coming in, I have to work. That’s what I’m expecting to do, whether I got drafted or not.”
Whatever happens in his NFL career, Rudolph said he plans to be an advocate for autistic children, thanks to his chance encounter with Paske.
“I saw him as a regular kid,” Rudolph said of the time he sat with Bo for lunch. “He is regular to me. I didn’t know anything about [autism], but I plan to speak [publicly] about it.”
Rudolph now will lean on the support he has received since his father’s death.
“My family has lifted me in spirit, as well as friends,” he said. “They just tell me to keep my head up and keep pushing because that’s what my dad would want me to do. This is what I have dreamed of doing. I know my dad is looking down at me, smiling at me right now for this opportunity.”