For the first time, Jake Rudock was caught between his two college worlds Saturday night. Around 10 p.m., after the Michigan men’s basketball team lost to Iowa in both teams’ regular-season finale, Rudock stood in the tunnel at Crisler Center, mingling with people from both of his stops in college football.
Since Rudock capped a successful, albeit brief, Michigan football career with a 41-7 victory in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, he has passed on the spotlight to next year’s team. Saturday, his past and present collided on the basketball court, and Rudock was but a spectator hoping for a good game.
“I’m here, I’m a Michigan man, but I have a degree from Iowa,” he said, declining to root for one team over the other. He visited with fans and Iowa basketball players he met as a Hawkeye quarterback from 2011 to 2014, as well as Michigan supporters he has encountered since then.
Since New Year’s Day, Rudock has been preparing for the NFL Draft late next month — “just training, taking class, training, taking class, training.” While Rudock was somewhat of an unknown entering Ann Arbor, he always had his sights on a job at the next level, even a year ago as he looked for a new place to play.
“I always had those beliefs and thoughts that I could do that,” Rudock said. “It’s a little different environment, but at the same time I always hoped that I would have the opportunity to do that. I’ve just been fortunate enough to do it.”
Rudock’s unheralded past still affects him, though. Despite his efficient senior season in which he passed for 3,017 yards — second in Michigan history for a single season — he was passed up for a spot in the NFL Scouting Combine, which ended last week.
“It’s unfortunately something that’s happened my whole career,” Rudock said. “There’s reasons behind everything, reasons you don’t always understand.”
A 6-foot-3, 208-pound native of Weston, Fla., Rudock was labeled a three-star recruit coming out of high school. Then, after he played for Iowa from 2011 to 2014, starting 25 games over his last two seasons, the Hawkeyes removed him from the starting quarterback job following the 2014 season.
So the Combine was just another instance.
“You can’t ever get used to it, but you kind of expect it,” Rudock said. “It’s just one of those things — you gotta put a chip on your shoulder and just keep working. Obviously it pisses you off and bums you out, but it’s just kind of how it’s been, unfortunately. You just gotta use it.”
Rudock has proved doubters wrong over the past year, and despite the Combine snub, he’ll have opportunities to do so again. His performance last season earned him an invitation to the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 23, when he completed eight of 14 passes for 77 yards and an interception.
Through the all-star game, he also had an opportunity to meet with NFL teams about his future and interact with other players he had competed against in college. One in particular was former Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave, whose career coincided with Rudock’s. Before he split time with Rudock in the Shrine Game, Stave won head-to-head matchups between the two in 2013 and 2014, when Rudock was at Iowa. The two did not face off in 2015.
“It was nice to talk to those guys on a non-hostile, non-‘Hey, great game man, hey, take care, I’ll see you soon, all right, bye,’ ” Rudock said with a smile. “Just because it’s so rushed, it was nice to get to know those guys, especially the Big Ten guys you’ve been playing against for however many years.”
With Rudock’s days in the Big Ten wrapped up, he said he has a little bit more time to spend time with friends and “breathe.” He remains focused on his NFL goal, though he also has aspirations of becoming a doctor after his playing days are over.
He hasn’t taken the MCAT or applied to medical schools, but he will return to those plans after he gives the NFL a shot.
“That’s kind of how it’s always been — just play ball as long as you can until your body or the coaches say you’re done, and then I can always go back to school,” he said.
In the meantime, Rudock knows others may have advantages over him, but he also knows that if he stays focused, he can have advantages over anyone else.
“The fact is, you can’t ever get satisfied,” he said. “You can’t ever rely on your laurels. It doesn’t work. Some guys may think it works. It doesn’t, because it always catches up to you.”