A Quick Start

While Notre Dame's starting tight end Mike Ragone was laboring through practice and in limbo about trying to go through the upcoming football season with a partially torn ACL, freshman understudy Kyle Rudolph was getting his reps the last two weeks with the first-team offense.

Last Friday, the University announced that Ragone had indeed decided to have surgery and sit out the entire 2008 season.

Today, Irish head coach Charlie Weis released his depth chart for the season opener against San Diego St. on Sept. 6th, and Kyle Rudolph was on top of the list at tight end.

"He runs faster down the field than the rest of them," Weis said. Eight Irish freshmen found their way into the two-deep on the depth chart, but not counting special teams, only the 6-foot-6, 252-pound Rudolph was named a starter. "That's really it. Will Yeatman is a very good tight end now, he's a big body, he's 265 pounds, he's a nice solid blocker, he has soft hands. But Kyle runs vertically down the field pretty fast."

Rudolph was named a U.S. Army All-American to cap his prep career. As a senior, the Cincinnati, Ohio product caught 37 passes for 667 yards and 11 touchdowns for Elder High.

Yeatman and Luke Schmidt will both see plenty of time on the field for the Irish, but Rudolph has already accomplished one of his earliest goals as a Notre Dame football player.

"I like to hope I'm doing well," Rudolph said last Friday at Notre Dame's freshmen media day. "I'm doing everything I can, working on things I need to work on each day in practice, trying to get better each day, so that ultimately I can reach that goal of being on that bus on game day and getting to that stadium."

Consider that accomplished.

Rudolph set his first goal as a Notre Dame player before he even reported to campus.

Right after basketball season ended in early March, a thin 230-poundish Rudolph set a goal to get his weight up to 255 pounds before reporting to South Bend for summer school in June. The Irish coaches told him that'd he'd never weigh more than that in a Notre Dame uniform, so Rudolph just figured why not get to that weight right away.

"I think what had to do a lot with it, is I quit playing basketball," Rudolph began. "Basketball ended March 1st, and I really set a goal for myself of working out and having good nutrition, and getting to my goal weight at the beginning of March that I set, that I wanted to report to camp at. I think it was a little bit of an outlandish goal, but as soon as I quit playing basketball, I couldn't stop the pounds from piling on.

"I wanted to be 255 when I reported. I was 254."

Certainly close enough.

Rudolph says it hasn't been easy making the transition from starring in high school to playing at Notre Dame, but that he and his classmates are definitely making strides.

"The little things in college football are so important, whether it's technique with blocking or technique with route running, but it's just so important because everyone is on such an elite level that your skill is just not going to take you like it did in high school," Rudolph explained. "You have to do the little things each and everyday and get better.

"I'd like to hope I hold my own physically. It's definitely a step up from the level before. Like I've mentioned a few times, it's all about the little things, because you can't physically overwhelm people like you did in high school, and if you don't have great technique on every play, you're going to get beat. You watch it on film, and it's just a little thing like maybe a step here or step there that you should've made or shouldn't of made that ends up causing you to get beat."

Judging by the depth chart, that hasn't happened to Rudolph too often. He's learned a lot the last two weeks running with the first team.

"It's a great experience," Rudolph stated. "It's awesome to take those reps to get used to that, and that just puts me in a situation, getting me better, so I can do everything I can to help the team win."

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