EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — A Florida State wide receiver who warmed hearts by sitting with an autistic school child at lunch last year is attempting to overcome his own adversity and make the New York Giants.
It's not going to be easy for Travis Rudolph.
His father was fatally shot in a freak accident at work in mid-April. The following weekend the junior who had left school to enter the NFL draft went undrafted and signed with the Giants. His father's funeral was last weekend.
Now the free agent faces the task of trying to make a team that already features receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall.
Rudolph started chasing his dream Friday, joining other rookies and free agents in a minicamp.
The soft-spoken Rudolph was remarkably in control in discussing what he and his family have gone through in the past three weeks.
"It's not difficult at all," Rudolph said. "This is what I have dreamed of doing. I know my dad is looking down at me, smiling at me right now for this opportunity."
Darryl Rudolph was the reason his son started playing football. They started throwing the ball around in their Florida home town when he was around 4 years old. He was there for every game, eventually seeing his son lead the Seminoles in receiving the past two years.
A week before the draft, Darryl Rudolph was doing some handy-man repairs in a nightclub when a man in an adjacent room dropped a gun. It discharged and struck and killed the 55-year-old Rudolph.
"Yeah, it was tough. I cried, I couldn't believe it, but God makes everything happen for a reason," Rudolph said. "Like I say, you just have to move on."
The NFL draft came the following weekend, but Rudolph insists he wasn't disappointed by not getting picked. His father always told him to stay focused, to work hard, believe in himself and make his own dreams come true.
Rudolph isn't even worried about his competition.
"Man, it is a challenge everywhere," he said. "I am confident in myself regardless of that fact. So I don't care how many receivers are on the team or how many good receivers are on the team."
Rudolph knows he has some supporters, starting with his family and Bo Paske, the autistic child with whom he had lunch last August. The videotape of that encounter went viral on social media and Rudolph picked up 10,000 followers while he was at practice that day.
"Him just telling me that he loves me and just saying that I am his friend forever just put a smile on my face, exciting him and his mother," Rudolph said.
Rudolph and Paske have kept in contact and the youngster attended his draft party.
Several teams tried to sign Rudolph after the draft, but he chose the Giants. That's partly because he remembers their Super Bowl wins over the Patriots, including David Tyree's incredible helmet catch in the 2008 game.
The Giants also have a history with undrafted free agents, with the most recent being Victor Cruz overcoming the odds to make it.
"I definitely have a chance," Rudolph said. "I know that they have great receivers, but I feel like I am a great receiver as well, so I have confidence in myself to make this team."
The last month has also taught him something about himself.
"Just overcoming adversity," he said. "That is all that it is. Not being drafted and losing my father the week before. You just have to overcome adversity and prove everyone wrong."