TAMPA — In the end, the choice for Jake Rudock was Miami or Iowa. The ACC vs. the Big Ten. South Beach winters vs. Iowa winters.
Rudock chose Iowa.
“It was the best fit,” said Rudock, who will lead the Iowa Hawkeyes against the LSU Tigers during Wednesday’s Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium.
Rudock, the quarterback from Weston, will play his first game inside the stadium, yet he is no stranger to Bay area football.
As the quarterback at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, Rudock guided the Raiders to a victory against Plant in the 2010 Class 5A title game.
Rudock said after Iowa’s practice Saturday afternoon at Jesuit High that he doesn’t remember much from Aquinas’ 29-7 victory against Plant but he does recall looking around after the game at all the Division I-A players from both teams, including Plant’s James Wilder and Rashad Greene of Aquinas, now teammates at Florida State.
Rudock had a chance to join Aquinas teammate Phillip Dorsett at Miami but chose the school that was more than 1,200 miles from home mainly because of Iowa’s medical school.
“It was a good fit for me just like St. Thomas Aquinas was a good fit for me,” Rudock said.
So the kid from South Florida finds himself handling Organic Chemistry II as part of his microbiology/pre-med major along with handling Big Ten defenses and the unforgiving Iowa winter.
He’s learned how to walk along paths blanketed in ice and snow.
“I was penguin walking,” he said of Iowa City’s recent snowstorm that dropped eight inches on the area.
Say this about Jake Rudock: He’s a quick learner.
“We knew he was smart,” Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis said.
But, Davis quickly added, there’s sometimes a difference between book smart and football smart.
“They don’t always coincide,” Davis said. “But in his case it did.”
After redshirting in 2012 as a freshman, Rudock became the first Hawkeyes quarterback in 19 years to make his Iowa debut in the season-opener. His 256 passing yards in a three-point loss to Northern Illinois were the fourth-highest in Iowa history by a quarterback making his first start.
Protected by an offensive line that stayed healthy the entire season, Rudock passed for 2,281 yards and 18 touchdowns, rushed for 223 yards and five touchdowns, and helped the Hawkeyes to an 8-4 season. His 208.7 yards of total offense per game ranked fifth in the Big Ten.
“He’s a very smart football player,” left tackle Brandon Scherff said. “Obviously, he’s a pretty studious guy in school, too. We appreciate that. He knows what he’s doing. He knows what plays to run.”
Rudock’s intelligence along with his talent has enabled him to improve over the course of the season. His teammates marvel at the ability of a first-year starting quarterback who can confidently check the offense into better plays at the line of scrimmage and who continues to shows faith in his receivers even after they’ve dropped a pass or two.
“He trusts us,” receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said. “He’s a smart player. He studies the film and knows what guys can get open in certain situations and that gives him confidence in us.”
Davis said NCAA restrictions limit the amount of time he and Rudock can watch film together. Rudock’s willingness to study on his own, Davis said, is a big part of his development.
“One of the things that all quarterbacks like is having a lot on their plate and it is fun to give them a lot to deal with as long as they can handle it. Jake has shown an ability to handle it,” Davis said.
Rudock’s father, Bob, is an attorney. His mother, Kathy, is a school teacher. They stressed education as much as athletics.
“My mom is a second-grade teacher, and she always told us, ‘When football is over it’s over, but you’ll still have your brain left, and that’s what you need to utilize.’ ” Rudock said.
Like nearly every high school quarterback in the state of Florida, Rudock said he dreamed of playing at one of the Big Three programs. But he also dreams of specializing in pediatric medicine. Playing quarterback in the Big Ten is pretty neat, as well.
So it was off to Iowa City for the medical program and the Big Ten schedule and the nasty winters that are part of the deal.
“Where I’m at right now,” Rudock said, “is where I fit.”