Jake Rudock: How a Change in Scenery Led to A Growth in Leadership


Compare fifth-year senior transfer Jake Rudock’s stats this season at Michigan and his previous two seasons at Iowa and you won’t find a whole lot of difference. Ask teammates, NFL scouts, and Rudock’s new coach, Jim Harbaugh, and they will be quick to say how much the quarterback has grown as a leader for Michigan – and as a prospect for the NFL.

By: Cory Burrell

“Tough as a $2 steak doesn’t do it real justice,” Harbaugh said. “He has been a godsend for our football team.”

“He’s a very mature individual, knows how to handle the game, knows situations,” Joe Bolden, co-captain for Michigan, said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press.“His leadership, how he handles himself, how he’s so calm in certain situations…Jake’s the epitome of calm in the chaos.”

Rudock’s path to success has been far from straightforward. But under the tutelage of Harbaugh, Rudock has grown from a rather unremarkable quarterback to one of the most poised field generals in the country – in college, and perhaps beyond.

Rudock was a three-star quarterback in high school for St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, FL. He enrolled at Iowa in 2011 and became the starting quarterback in 2013.

For two years, Rudock helmed the Hawkeyes’ offense. To Rudock’s credit, he put up decent numbers – his completion percentage ranked second among all Big 10 quarterbacks in 2014. Rudock’s efficiency was not enough to propel Iowa’s offense out of the bottom half of the nation in scoring or a barely-above .500 record. Looking to change things up, junior C.J. Beathard was named the starter going into the season. Iowa’s head coach Kirk Ferentz said Beathard’s “live arm” and better mobility pushed him ahead of Rudock for the starting role.

Rudock was adamant he was capable of starting. In the spring, Rudock declared he would transfer to Michigan and, per the graduate transfer rule, would be able to play immediately. Iowa expressed no hard feelings on Rudock’s decision, and Ferentz granted Rudock his release with no conditions.

Rudock separated himself from the other Michigan quarterbacks quickly in the eyes of Harbaugh and had the starting spot from the first game of the season – high praise from the renowned quarterback guru. Harbaugh was fresh off a successful run as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers and played the position in the NFL for 15 years himself. Harbaugh was willing to put the fate of a defining season for Michigan in Rudock’s hands.

Unfortunately, things did not start out smoothly for Rudock. Rudock would throw an interception in four of his first five games with the Wolverines, including a three-interception outing in Michigan’s season-opening loss to an underdog Utah team. Despite a four-game winning streak, Rudock still faced criticism. In the meantime, Beathard was leading Iowa to one of its most successful seasons in the program’s history, posting an undefeated record and a likely playoff berth.

But Harbaugh refused to give up on Rudock, telling reporters he was not even considering a change in quarterbacks. The public vote of confidence did wonders for Rudock.

“When you hear your coach standing up for you like that, it gives you so much confidence,” Rudock said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I could just focus on improving and not looking over my shoulder.”

Rudock rewarded Harbaugh’s faith. With the exception of a loss to Michigan State (thanks to a now-infamous botched punt), Rudock has led the Wolverines to a nearly undefeated conference record and standout performances. Against Rutgers on Nov. 7th, Rudock threw for 337 yards and two touchdowns while completing 72 percent of his passes. Unsurprisingly, Michigan ran away with the game 49-16. It was after this game where Harbaugh’s praise for Rudock as an NFL-ready player started to come out.

“I really felt like, watching this game, Jake played his best game. He looked like an NFL-type quarterback, somebody that had a future playing in the league,” Harbaugh said. “The way he’s now playing and operating, I see that jump that he’s made.”

Rudock followed up that praise next week with a record-setting 440 yard, six touchdown performance in a thrilling overtime victory over Indiana. It was the most touchdowns by a quarterback in school history, as well as the third-most passing yards in Michigan history.

Rudock has certainly shown he has the physical tools to play professionally, but the poise and leadership Rudock possesses draws just as much praise, if not more, from coaches and teammates alike.

“They [his teammates] look at him like an elder,” Michigan’s passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press. “He handles himself above his years. You definitely get confused with a 33-year-old and a 23-year-old with him… He just does things right.”

Michigan left guard Ben Braden also had lofty praise for Rudock’s development as a leader.

“Every day [Rudock is] making sure we’re OK, asking us, ‘Hey are you doing all right? Do you have any questions about things?'” Braden said. “There have been times I’ll go and ask him questions: ‘What are your steps on this or where are you setting up on this?’ Just the communication among the team and him is huge.”

Rudock may not be as considered as an NFL prospect the same way as some of the other tops quarterbacks of the 2016 draft class. But he has shown tremendous growth as a passer and as a leader this season. Harbaugh, one of the best at evaluating quarterbacks, has already given Rudock his seal of approval. Come April, Rudock will see if any NFL teams feel the same way.

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