Devastating news resonated throughout the Northern Illinois football program on Friday evening.
The Huskies’ star wide receiver Trayvon Rudolph suffered a non-contact knee injury in practice, officially ending his 2022 season before it began. The news was first reported by Matt Fortuna of The Athletic.
Rudolph was one of Northern Illinois brightest breakout stars during the 2021 MAC title run. As a redshirt freshman, Rudolph skyrocketed his production and wound up leading the Huskies in receptions (51), receiving yards, (892), and receiving touchdowns (7). He established himself as one of the premier deep threats in the conference with an astounding average of 17.5 yards per catch.
Rudolph’s finest work was completed on a Wednesday night in Kent, OH. In a midweek MACtion preview of the 2021 MAC Championship Game, Rudolph stepped up for the injured Tyrice Richie with an unthinkable stat-line of 14 receptions, 309 yards, and three touchdowns. His yardage — which ranked second among all FBS receivers in 2021 — shattered a 16-year program record held by Sam Hurd by 43 yards. The Crete, IL native secured two additional 100-yard performances last year, exceeding the century mark in the games before and after his 309-yard rampage.
In addition to operating as the Huskies’ No. 1 target in the passing game, Rudolph became a notorious threat to opposing special teams units. As a kick returner, he averaged 25.1 yards per return and manufactured a signature highlight by completing a 100-yard runback in a one-score win over Bowling Green in October.
At the conclusion of the season, Rudolph was showered with All-MAC honors — twice. The versatile playmaker was one of three players to appear multiple times on the all-conference teams, earning Second Team status as both a wide receiver and kick returner.
Rudolph’s absence creates a massive hole on the depth chart for the reigning MAC champions. The No. 1 receiving role will consequentially be handed down to either Cole Tucker or Shermar Thornton. Tucker ranked second on the Huskies in receiving yards and touchdowns last year, hauling in a career-high 41 receptions in his fourth year suiting up in red and black. Thornton transferred from FIU and produced impressive numbers in 2019 as the Panthers’ leader in all major statistical categories. Injuries hampered the latter part of his FIU career, but his presence will be especially welcome in the wake of Rudolph’s knee injury.
Additional returning receivers expected to witness expanded roles are Messiah Travis (fourth on the roster in receiving yards in 2021) and Fabian McCray (three receptions for 48 yards in two seasons as a Huskie). Also, expect a litany of freshmen to contribute to the receiving room as 11 of 18 receivers on the roster hold freshman designation.
Northern Illinois will kick off its season, bereft of one of its standout talents, on Thursday, Sept. 1 against in-state FCS foe Eastern Illinois.