STILLWATER — Oklahoma State football coaches haven’t confirmed whether freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph will play or redshirt this season.
Rudolph — and every first-year Cowboy football player — is not permitted to talk with reporters, making it even more difficult to assess his potential role next season.
But ask Rudolph’s high school coach, Kyle Richardson at Northwestern in Rock Hill, S.C., and the four-star recruit’s thought process becomes clear.
“He wants to be the starter right now,” Richardson said in a phone interview Thursday. “He doesn’t want to redshirt.”
No big surprise. Rudolph ran an air-raid spread in high school seemingly identical in philosophy to offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich’s system. And coach Mike Gundy has said Rudolph is in the mix to play “situationally” this season if the strategy fits best.
What might seem surprising, though, is Richardson’s take on the situation.
“I’d like to see him redshirt,” Richardson said. “My view is from the point where we see the bigger picture.”
It’s not that he doesn’t think Rudolph is capable. Richardson said his former quarterback “could play at a young age” in the Cowboys’ offense and has the physical tools to succeed. But there are other variables at hand that could make sitting out a season beneficial.
“You can’t prepare yourself for the speed of the college game,” Richardson said.
And there’s more.
“He’s not going to walk into the huddle at 18-years-old and tell 23-year-olds what to do,” he continued. “It just doesn’t happen.”
But as the Aug. 30 Florida State opener approaches and the lingering questions as to who will play the majority of quarterback snaps this season go unanswered, Richardson recalled a similar position battle that took place on his field back in the fall of 2011.
That’s when Rudolph, then a high school sophomore, beat out a senior to become the starting quarterback at Northwestern.
Before that season, Rudolph was a freshman tight end at a private school in town. Richardson was able to convince Rudolph to transfer after witnessing his skills at a passing camp, and the promise he could one day win a state championship and become a college quarterback.
That vision was made credible by Richardson’s recent success at developing the position. The starting quarterback at Northwestern in 2010 was senior Justin Worley — who was just announced Thursday as the starting quarterback for Tennessee, where he is now a senior.
Worley set a number of state records his senior season of high school and was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year following an undefeated campaign and a state championship victory.
Next in line for his job was a rising senior at Northwestern. Rudolph, who had just transferred in as Worley graduated, was listed at No. 2 on the depth chart.
But not for long.
“Mason had to go beat him out and he did,” Richardson said. “Once he took over the starting job, he never gave it up. Nothing around here is given to anybody, so he definitely had to come in and earn everything that he got.”
The senior started in the opener that fall, but Rudolph took over week two. He went on to start for Northwestern the next three seasons, compiling 10,986 career passing yards and winning the state title his final year.
“He didn’t get caught up in who he was replacing and just went to work every day and worried about the job that he had had to do,” Richardson said. “I think that was the big thing that led to the most success for him.”
That same attitude would seem beneficial to Rudolph this season, but the ultimate decision on his use in 2014 has yet to be made.
“We’re not sure yet,” Gundy said back in early August. “We’ll just have to let the thing play itself out and see how those guys develop … I thought he was considerably better today than when we finished in the spring.”
Richardson said he texts Rudolph once or twice a week, but their conversations are as much about life as a college freshman away from home as football. No matter what happens this season, he said Rudolph is in a position to be successful.
“It’s a win-win situation,” Richardson said. “If he wins the starting job, great. If he doesn’t, hopefully he sticks with his redshirt all year and then can have four years to compete at a high level within the system.”