Inside Trayvon Rudolph’s decision to withdraw from transfer portal, stay with NIU

Northern Illinois' Trayvon Rudolph looks to get by Western Michigan's Anthony Romphf during their game Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, in Huskie Stadium at NIU in DeKalb.

DeKALB – Trayvon Rudolph spent barely two weeks in the transfer portal. But in the end, the Northern Illinois University wide receiver decided to remain a Huskie.

Between Nov. 28 and Dec. 13, Rudolph basically was a free agent open to recruitment. And it was coach Thomas Hammock and his current team that won out.

“I had a heart-to-heart conversation with Ham and how everything was going, how my life was going to change,” Rudolph said. “He never gave me any lies or dishonesty. I believe in his word. And at the same time, I still want another MAC championship, so that’s why I came back.”

The Huskies had high expectations for the 2023 season, but started 1-4 and had to win their last two games to qualify for a bowl game. They’ll face Arkansas State in the Camellia Bowl at 11 a.m. Saturday in Montgomery, Ala.

The Huskies struggled throughout 2022, finishing 3-9, and injuries were at the forefront of that. Rudolph was no exception, missing the whole season after a breakout 2021 campaign.

This year, the Crete-Monee graduate made 46 catches for 499 yards and two touchdowns, below his 49-877-7 output of the 2021 season in which the Huskies won the MAC title and made the Cure Bowl, losing to Coastal Carolina.

Rudolph said he entered the portal looking for a school that throws the ball more than the Huskies.

“I was looking for more of a pass-first offense,” Rudolph said. “It was nothing toward me not liking being here. I love being here. Them giving me a chance out of high school as a walk-on, that was great. Me and Ham had a conversation either way it went, so it was no hard feelings.”

Rudolph said he ended up with offers from Western Kentucky, San Diego and Miami (Ohio). He also said he was talking to multiple other schools like Arkansas and Pittsburgh but with no firm offers.

He said that was one of the big takeaways he had from his time in the portal – how teams will talk to you, but how much things can change as well.

“There’s a lot that comes with it,” Rudolph said. “A lot of schools, Power 5, they can follow you, but once it’s actually open it’s a whole different thing. You could talk to them, but say another dude who’s already at a Power 5 school, he hits the portal, they might try to get that guy first.”

Rudolph said it was all business in his decision to enter the portal. He said he appreciated how honest Hammock was during the process.

The fifth-year coach said the portal is just part of the game now, and there aren’t any hard feelings when a player decides to enter the portal.

When a player enters the portal, they still are eligible to play for their current team, although traditionally players don’t continue in team activities once entering the portal. Hammock said he didn’t feel like he had to re-recruit Rudolph, who still was working out with the Huskies as they prepared for their bowl game.

“It doesn’t make sense to make it a negative situation,” Hammock said “You try to give as much information to the young man or whoever you’re talking to, but it’s not personal, right? Because if it was just about relationships, they wouldn’t leave. I think we have great relationships with our players. We talk about that. It’s something we recruit to. It’s the relationships. Helping you develop as a man. Helping you develop as a player. Helping you get your degree.”

Hammock also said entering the portal isn’t entering a bubble. Players still talk and are still friends, he said. NIU running back Antario Brown commented on Rudolph’s initial social media post announcing he entered the portal, indicating he didn’t feel Rudolph would end up leaving.

The running back was one of three people Rudolph tagged in the announcement he was returning to the Huskies.

Brown said he meant the reply as a joke, but he did say he spent the two weeks talking to Rudolph.

“I was just staying in his ear a lot throughout it, letting him know this is home,” Brown said. “He’s made a name for himself here. We still have a lot of unfinished business to do here. I was just trying to stay in his ear.”

Rudolph was a walk-on with the Huskies and said he always felt like an underdog. He also said he really wants another shot at a MAC title, not to mention the chance to play some high-profile teams.

NIU travels to N.C. State and Notre Dame next year and Mississippi State and Maryland in 2025, Rudolph’s final year of eligibility.

“I’ve always been underestimated, and that’s the thing I love,” Rudolph said. “I love proving people wrong. So coming back here, I get to go to N.C. State and Notre Dame and prove them wrong, too.”

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