While taking an especially bumpy car ride last season, Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph experienced each pothole and road divot of Stillwater’s uneven highways from the passenger seat with increased pain.
It was understandable. Rudolph was sandwiched by Texas defensive backs Jason Hall and Dylan Haines a few days earlier as he fought for his first career rushing touchdown.
It left a throbbing pain several days later, and he relived the hit while riding in teammate Zac Crabtree’s car.
“We were hitting some of those bumps and I was kind of wincing,” Rudolph said. “Crab was telling me I was being soft and to quit whining.”
Later that week, Rudolph was diagnosed with cracked ribs. That might have sidelined many players, but Rudolph put on a flak jacket, gritted his teeth and returned determined to play through the pain.
His high tolerance for pain was on display after he took that wicked hit in the Texas game. Despite being injured, Rudolph bounced back to throw touchdown passes of 36 and 52 yards to Jalen McClesky later that quarter. He finished with 392 yards passing and 3 touchdowns to lead a wild 49-31 triumph.
After his injury on Oct. 1, Rudolph led the Cowboys to a 7-2 finish and a 10-3 season that included a victory over Colorado in the Alamo Bowl. He threw 22 touchdowns passes and only 2 interceptions after the injury occurred.
“It was tough in the beginning and the doctors told me it usually was a six-week recovery,” he said. “But by the bowl game, I was feeling a lot better and was healthy.
“It was a challenge, and I kind of had to adjust my game and learn how to takes the hits. But I was just careful and determined not to take too many shots because I didn’t want to damage it further or crack it even more.”
That determination resonated with his teammates and resulted in a tight bond for the upcoming season.
Rudolph returns for his senior season intent on showing the same leadership skills he has shown since taking over the starting job late in his freshman season.
“I really haven’t changed that much,” Rudolph said. “From the day I was named the starter, I’ve tried to be a vocal leader and someone who leads by example. It’s easy to do that when we’ve got so many leaders on this team. We just feed off each other and it’s been a great run so far.”
Rudolph needs only 547 passing yards to break Brandon Weeden’s school career record of 9,260. He’s also close to breaking most of OSU’ other passing records.
But as much as his individual statistics have shown his value to the program, Rudolph wants more. The Cowboys have won 10 games in back-to-back seasons for only the third time in school history. Even with that success, they are looking for their first Big 12 title since 2011.
It has resulted in a hungry, different vibe, Rudolph said.
“Yeah, I say every year you want to manufacture that,” Rudolph said. “This year we still do everything we can to bring the team together. But it’s easier this season with guys who have been together for three different years now and even four in some cases.
“These guys know the drill and know and trust each other. There’s just a better level of trust. And it’s easy to feel comfortable when you can do that.”
Even if it wasn’t always comfortable for the Cowboys quarterback for much of last season.