Today, we catch up with 2008 American Family Insurance ALL-USA tight end Kyle Rudolph of Elder (Cincinnati), now in his third season with the Minnesota Vikings. This marks the 30th anniversary of USA TODAY recognizing the nation's top high school athletes. We are digging into the archives and checking in with ALL-USA honorees from the past three decades.
Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph's numbers took a leap last season. He went from 26 catches and 249 receiving yards in 2011 to 53 catches with 493 yards and from three touchdown catches to nine. That upward trend continued in the postseason, where he was named the MVP of the Pro Bowl after hauling in five catches for 122 yards and a touchdown.
"I think the biggest thing for me was the offseason last year," Rudolph says. "It was my first healthy offseason since college and as I went through the season, I definitely got more and more comfortable. The whole experience at the Pro Bowl was great. To be able to win the MVP was special but also to get to pick the brains of a player that I've grown up admiring like (Dallas Cowboys tight end) Jason Witten was something special."
WATCH: Rudolph's NFL highlights
The Vikings drafted Rudolph in the second round in 2011, the No. 43 player taken overall. The former Elder (Cincinnati) and Notre Dame player would have likely gone higher except he was recovering from hamstring surgery. He was a little behind his first season because of the NFL lockout, but the connections he made with another rookie that season, quarterback Christian Ponder, are paying dividends now. The two met at the NFL combine and Ponder stayed with Rudolph in Minnesota until he got his own place.
"I think coming in the same year and going through the lockout together, we became good friends off the start," Rudolph said. "He's a great guy and a good football player. We expect big things from him this year. If he can make that same jump that he made from his rookie season to last season, we'll be in great shape."
The same could be said for the 6-6, 265-pound Rudolph, but tight ends aren't just judged on pass catching.
"It's hard to set standards or numbers on personal goals," he said. "Our goal is to win our division, clinch home field and eventually bring home a world championship to Minnesota. My job is to do everything possible for us to reach our goals. If it means I have the exact same numbers, or even fewer catches, as long as I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, that's OK. Route running has always been something that has come naturally to me. I was asked to block in college, but obviously, it's different in the NFL. With Adrian Peterson, everybody knows our offense is running the ball. On this team, you're expected to be able to block. I've been working two years now with tight end coach Jimmie Johnson. He's really done a good job with getting my technique sound. When you use the right technique, you don't have to be dominating."
A natural athlete who was also considered an elite basketball player in high school, Rudolph showed good cricket technique when he visited the United Kingdom this past spring to promote the team's Sept. 29 game with the Pittsburgh Steelers in London. He also gained a little notoriety for his "ice auger dance" following a touchdown last season.
"I've never ice fished," Rudolph said. "The ice auger thing came up after we played in Green Bay. The radio station 93X had a competition for people to send in touchdown celebration ideas. Me and the guys went through the best suggestions and we decided on the ice auger dance. That week, we went to Houston and when I scored, I had to keep my word. I'm not sure if I'll pull that one out again. I've had a few requests for it. I think I will do something else next time."
Rudolph keeps close ties to Elder, following the Panthers' games on the internet when he can.
"I usually go back to Elder at least once a year in the offseason," Rudolph said. "I enjoy following the team on the internet. I've done it since I was in college."