STILLWATER — Much of Mason Rudolph's life as a quarterback can be defined by the Y-corner route, a staple play in the Air Raid spread system where an inside receiver breaks toward the back pylon of the end zone when the play is run inside the 20-yard line.
With about 15 seconds remaining and no timeouts left in his first game as a sophomore starter for Rock Hill (S.C.) Northwestern High, Rudolph took a sack instead of finding the open receiver. Time ran out, and Northwestern lost.
The last game of that regular season, nearly an identical situation, instead resulted in a game-winning touchdown toss.
Later, that route became his final pass as a high schooler in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. Again, it was a game-winner with less than a minute to play.
And that's perhaps the biggest reason why Rudolph is capable of competing right away for the Oklahoma State starting quarterback job as an incoming true freshman.
“He'll run (Y-corner) 1,000 times at Oklahoma State,” said Kyle Richardson, Rudolph's high school coach. “It's the bread and butter of Air Raid … He will be running Y-corner for seven straight years.
“I think he's pretty good at it right now, how good's he gonna be after seven years of running it?”
Rudolph's numbers certainly back up his grasp of the same offensive system he'll run as a Cowboy.
He put together a monster senior season in an area traditionally rich with Division I talent, completing 72 percent of his passes and tossing 64 touchdowns versus just eight interceptions. He led Northwestern to a 15-0 record and Class 4A Division II state title and No. 7 ranking in the final USA Today Super 25 national poll.
But Richardson also believes Rudolph is physically ready for the blows he'd take in college football.
The 6-4 Rudolph bulked up to 220 pounds this season, allowing him to pick up 16 rushing touchdowns to help set a state record for total touchdowns by a quarterback in a season (80). That ability could certainly become an asset at OSU, where the quarterback run game was in play with both Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh behind center.
“He just became more dynamic,” Richardson said, “to where defensive coordinators had more to worry about than just, hey, he's just gonna sit back there and throw it and kill us with his arm. He'd kill them with his arm and his leg.
“Our offense has kind of been tagged that all they do is throw it. Well, this year we could throw it, and if you dropped them all (into coverage) and took away the pass, he would hit you with the run.”
Opposing coaches took note of Rudolph's progression. Like Bobby Carroll, the current coach at nearby York who previously coached notable stars like projected top-10 NFL Draft pick Jadeveon Clowney and Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
“It's almost like the triple option,” Carroll said. “You've got to defend the pass. You've got to defend the tailback. Now you've got to defend the huge, strong quarterback.
“He just really developed from that junior to senior year as much as I've ever seen somebody do in the state of South Carolina.”
So why is Rudolph still a bit overlooked on the recruiting trail? Richardson points to two key reasons.
First, Rudolph was not very interested in the camp scene, where recruiting gurus often evaluate heavily and assign their star rankings. He even turned down an invitation to the Under Armour All-America game earlier this month.
“He didn't concern himself with those things in the offseason,” Richardson said. “He didn't chase the stars, he chased the ring, and that's what he got.”
Second, even in becoming a pass-run option as a senior, Rudolph still fights the “system quarterback” stigma.
But even if that were the case, he's certainly going to the right school for that system.
Rudolph has enrolled early at OSU to participate in spring practice, where J.W. Walsh, Daxx Garman, Richard Lagow and Jake Hubenak will also be vying for the starting job.
Richardson expects Rudolph's biggest adjustment to be the speed of the defense, and recognizing that windows he used to be able to throw through might not be open anymore. There also could be some different terminology, even though the overall concepts of the offense will be almost identical.
Like that Y-corner route.
“He chose Oklahoma State over LSU for those reasons,” Richardson said. “To come in and compete for a job the minute he gets there and be in the system that he could get into a spot to compete earlier because he knows (it).
“At this point, it's gonna be on him to go in and take advantage of whatever reps he can get early, and then from there, see what happens.”