Former Irish tight end Rudolph earns big pay day, then gives back

BOB WIENEKE
South Bend Tribune

With a recent contract extension that could be worth as much as $36.5 million and keep him a Minnesota Viking for the next six years, former Notre Dame star Kyle Rudolph could have celebrated by visiting a local car lot, or booking time with a realtor.

"Nope. I'm happy with the truck I drive. I'm happy with the house I live in," Rudolph said recently between two-a-day practices. "Very happy with life right now."

Rudolph may not be splurging for himself, but he did go out and spend some of his new riches. The Cincinnati native had vowed that when a new contract was reached, he would pay to upgrade the weight room at Elder High School, his alma mater. And that's exactly what he's doing.

"At my press conference, I got asked what was the first thing I was going to do, and I explained to them that I owed my old high school strength coach an update on the weight room," Rudolph said. "I think that those kids put in time and effort, and they deserve to have the best stuff that everybody else in the city has."

The stuff that Rudolph has shown in his first three years as a pro convinced the Vikings to lock up the former second-round pick (No. 43 overall) for the foreseeable future.

"He’s one of our young guys who is going to be a building block as we go forward in the future and we’re just very excited to get this behind us so we can look forward to seeing him produce over the coming years," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said.

It's what he’s done in the previous years that convinced the Vikings to invest in Rudolph, who doesn't turn 25 until November.

Rudolph caught 26 passes as a rookie in 2011 before catching 53 passes for 493 yards and nine touchdowns the following year. Those numbers earned him a spot on the Pro Bowl, where he won MVP honors.

"To have an opportunity to go over there and play with the best players in our game today, a lot of guys that I grew up watching play the game, to have an opportunity to meet them and play with them, and then to go out on Sunday in the game and be named MVP was just kind of icing on the cake to a great week," Rudolph said.

"It's nothing I would have ever dreamed of. I didn't expect it to happen. I was just fortunate enough to have a bunch of balls thrown my way in the game."

Rudolph's 2013 season was cut short by a foot injury that limited him to eight games.

"I always tell people the hardest thing for an athlete is not being able to be out there with their team," said Rudolph, who was the first tight end selected in the 2011 draft after a hamstring injury cut short his junior season at ND. "You do everything you possibly can to get healthy but your body can only heal so quickly and being on the sidelines, not being able to be out at practice with my teammates and definitely not being able to be out there on Sundays, as an athlete, I think that's the hardest thing we have to deal with."

One of the many positives Rudolph has gotten to deal with is playing with running back Adrian Peterson, one of the game's all-time greats.

"I'm going to be able to tell my kids, my grandkids, stories about Adrian Peterson when he's in the Hall of Fame someday," Rudolph said. "When you get to play with a guy like that, it's pretty special because the thing that's unique about Adrian is, as unique and talented and gifted as he is, he's one of the hardest workers on our team and he sets a great example for young guys."

Some of those young guys are guys Rudolph knew years before he arrived in Minnesota. Rudolph is one of four former Irish on the Vikings roster, center John Sullivan, and safeties Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton being the others.

If the Vikings are home, there are times when the ND alums will get together to watch games. If they're traveling, they try to get to the hotel quickly enough on Saturday so they can catch the broadcast.

"At the same time we kind of have our little fraternity in the locker room and we always stick together," Rudolph said.

The four will be part of a Vikings team that is trying to rebound from a 5-10-1 season that saw coach Leslie Frazier get fired. Defensive-minded Mike Zimmer was hired as Frazier's replacement, but the offense was far from forgotten as Norv Turner was brought in as coordinator.

Turner, who has head-coaching experience at Washington, Oakland and San Diego, has structured offenses in which tight ends have thrived, namely Jay Novacek with the Cowboys and Antonio Gates with the Chargers.

"I look forward to becoming the tight end that he had in all of his systems in the past and filling that role," said the 6-foot-6, 259-pound Rudolph, who lost 15 pounds since the end of last season, "but also taking it to a level that it's never been before."

Minnesota Vikings tight end and former Notre Dame standout Kyle Rudolph, here catching a pass during training camp on Friday, has pledged to help refurbish his high school's weight room. (AP Photo/CHARLIE NEIBERGALL)