Kyle Rudolph never came close to winning a football national title at Notre Dame, but the Vikings' second-round draft pick might have two Final Four rings if he had chosen a different path in sports.
A standout basketball player at Cincinnati's Elder High School, Rudolph was recruited by Butler coach Brad Stevens and had other scholarship offers, including one from Wake Forest.
"My freshman and sophomore year in high school I was about this height [6-5]," Rudolph said. "I pretty much had my mind set that I was going to play basketball and went down to Wake Forest for a visit when Coach [Skip] Prosser was there. I went to a Duke vs. Wake Forest game actually, and I was pretty much set. I was going to go to Wake Forest and play basketball and then summer rolled around before my junior year and I went to a few football camps. Coaches convinced me otherwise. They said, 'You should probably think about this football thing, it might work all right for you.' I'm still the same height now as I was as a sophomore in high school, so I think that had a little to do with it as well."
Rudolph (6-5, 266 pounds) was the top tight end prospect in the draft after spending three seasons at Notre Dame. The Vikings expressed a desire to get younger at tight end, but few probably envisioned them using their second-round pick on that position.
With three veteran tight ends under contract, the Vikings had more pressing needs at other positions. But coach Leslie Frazier and vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman said they couldn't pass on Rudolph when their selection came in the second round.
"When I started watching him on tape, I looked at him and said, 'You just don't see very many tight ends like this anymore,'" Frazier said. "Everybody is going towards the hybrid-type tight end. A guy who's a move guy, sometimes he's in the backfield, sometimes at the line of scrimmage. It's hard to find guys like Kyle today. So many of those guys are playing basketball it seems, so it's a little bit different. By the way, that is his background. He is a basketball player. I was watching him and I kept going, 'Man, it sure would be nice to have guy like this.'"
Rudolph lined up in different spots in Notre Dame's offense and averaged 11.5 yards per catch for his career. The Vikings seem intrigued by the potential of using Rudolph and Visanthe Shiancoe on the field together.
"I know how hard it is for me when I'm looking at offenses putting together a [defensive] game plan, thinking about that team's tight end," Frazier said. "Is he a factor, or is he not a factor, because that enables us to do some things with the receivers if he's not a factor. So I looked at [Rudolph] and said, 'Boy, if we were to get this guy, it would create some problems for opposing defenses.' When the opportunity came, although there were other positions there we were looking at, there's no way you could pass on a guy like this."
Getting a late start
Sixth-round pick Brandon Fusco, a center from Slippery Rock, didn't start playing football until his junior year of high school.
"I wasn't really into sports that much," he said.
His late start contributed to him landing at Slippery Rock.
"I really wasn't heavily recruited out of high school," he said. "I was about 6-4, 240 pounds, real skinny, built like a pencil, didn't take the weight room as seriously as I do now. Schools weren't really recruiting me. It was Division II schools. The biggest look I had was Youngstown State and that was a walk-on job. Slippery Rock came to my house, and I felt I really connected with the coaching staff."
Staying on the move
It's not unusual for offensive linemen to be able to move from tackle to guard if needed. Or to flip sides on the line in a pinch.
Sixth-round pick DeMarcus Love not only played tackle and guard at Arkansas, he constantly rotated from left side to right side at tackle his senior season.
"Every other play or series, I lined up at each because I was a 'weak-side tackle,'" he said. "I played the opposite side of the tight end."
Spielman said Love's versatility added value to his draft stock.
"You see him left and the next play he's on the right side," Spielman said.
"Maybe he's three plays back on the left, three plays back on the right. So you see him during the game, going back and forth, left, right, left, right. That's one thing that was very appealing to us: big guy with athletic skills, that likes to run block, but can play multiple positions."
Love played right tackle at the Senior Bowl.