Zone Read: The Arizona Summer Is Here

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After a standout prep career at Horizon High School, Jay Rudolph, Class of 2020 3-star recruit, picked San Diego State over as his nine other college offers. 

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound tight end, now entering his third season with Aztecs, sat down with the “Zone Read” to talk football, San Diego beaches, college life in “America’s Finest City,” and much more.

How often do you get to the beach and which has become your favorite in the San Diego area? “I say I go once every couple of weeks, maybe every three weeks. I like Marine Street. It’s a beach in La Jolla. It’s a pretty nice beach, not that crowded. It has nice waves and everything. That’s my favorite. I Boogie Board and body surf.  We always came out here to California and the beaches when I was younger. Now we just go out more. It’s nice when you have a day off to go.”

What’s the best part of going to college in San Diego? “It’s been awesome. Can’t beat the weather. When I was back home [in Scottsdale in late May], I really realized how lucky I have it out here. The weather here is awesome. I really like the [SDSU] coaches and what they stand for. I also have some family out here which always helps. I can go to my aunt and uncle’s [house] on the weekend. It’s like a home away from home. Overall, it’s been a great experience with a great bunch of guys.”

You had your first collegiate touchdown reception last season against Utah. Take us through that play. “So, it was a play action roll out and I was supposed to seal the [defensive] end at the line of scrimmage, and then release late. But they walked up a linebacker so I thought they were going to blitz. I kind of arched out to him, thinking he was going to come but he actually didn’t blitz. So I engaged him for two or three seconds, and then released. That’s not how the play was designed (laughing). But it worked out in the end. I just ran to the flat and there was nobody there. It all worked out.”

Was the whole thing sort of surreal? “It was definitely a crazy moment. It kind of took me a second to realize what happened. Then I was really excited. It was awesome for sure.”

Your older brother, Luke, was also at standout at Horizon, and had a really nice career at NAU as an offensive lineman. How much have you leaned on him to help you navigate through being a student-athlete and playing Division I football? “It always helps to have someone go through that experience before you and can tell you what to do, and what you shouldn’t do. The big thing he told me was, everything the coaches say, you have to take it with a grain of salt. They’re going to say some things that you may not agree with but it’s your job, so you just have to do what you have to do.”

Former Notre Dame Prep standout offensive lineman Cade Bennett, who you played against in high school, transferred from Oklahoma State, to San Diego State this off-season. Did you know him at all before he arrived on campus this spring? “I didn’t really know him in high school but our families know each other. My mom knows his mom. We actually grew up like one neighborhood away from each other. When I was back in Arizona, I was over at his house hanging out in the pool and stuff…it worked out well. I’m glad that he’s here.”

Is it kind of crazy that he could be lining up close to you on the same side of the ball after playing against one another as rivals in high school? “That was one of our biggest games. Yeah, it’s definitely crazy but I’m glad he’s here.”

Daniel Bellinger was an excellent tight end at SDSU. Was just drafted by the New York Giants in late April. What did you learn the most watching and playing with him the past two seasons? “He showed me what it takes to be a true tight end. Just rooming with him [for road games]. Everything he does. How he prepares for the games. How he goes about practice. How he watches film. Everything. I feel I learned a lot. Just playing next to him really helped me grow into the player I am today. He was always giving me little tips. Things you wouldn’t know unless you played the game. He had a ton of experience so he was always helping me out.”

Where do you feel you’ve developed your body the most since you enrolled at San Diego State? “I think in high school, I played around 210 [pounds] and last season, when I got on the field, I was around 240. Obviously, you have to eat a lot of food. It’s almost on you. I’ve gotten stronger. Our strength coach [Adam Hall] does a great job getting us ready and prepared for playing those other schools.”

There must be something in the Horizon tight end water since Matthew Klopfenstein took over for you after you graduated. He is committed to Baylor. How much did you mentor him during his early high school years learning the position? “His freshman year he got pulled up to varsity, so he was my backup. I still stay in touch with him. He’s always reaching out if he has questions or anything. I always try to help him out the best I can. It’s always good to see guys from your high school going on to play college ball. I’m really excited for him.”

Did you get the sense he was going to be a special talent when you first got to play with him?  “Yeah, I think you could tell – just by the way he went about practice and things like that. My senior year, he was just as big as me and he was only a freshman. He had all the measurables. He had everything. All he had to do was just continue to get stronger and faster, which he did. That shows by all the offers he got.”

The County Crossover: Maricopa (north Valley, central Phoenix)

The tour makes its final stop as’s Swiss Army knife, Jordan Spurgeon, drops knowledge on a handful of schools located north of the Loop 101, and Jason Jewell’s Brophy Broncos.

Pinnacle has a number of high-level 2023’s (Duce Robinson, Eli Page, Myles Libman). The Pioneers are coming off a 4-8 season but played a brutal schedule (Horizon, Highland, Chandler, Salpointe, Liberty, Chaparral twice). What do you see from the 2022 version of the Pioneers? “Yes Eric, Pinnacle is loaded with 2023 talent that we’ll see playing for big-time programs on Saturdays in the near future. In my three years in Arizona, Duce Robinson has stood out as who’s most likely to become a NFL player. His frame and athleticism are unmatched by anyone else at his position. Dana Zupke is a coach who won’t let this team have another down year. They will play a tough schedule again this year, but the talent should be more developed and hungry after the 2021 campaign. They’ll be a legit 6A playoff team.”

Boulder Creek has had a number of impressive quarterbacks in recent years (Caden Austin, Bear Milacek) and now multi-sport stud Rowan McKenzie returns for his junior season after bursting on the scene last fall. Could he be the best of the three by the time his Jags’ career is over? “Only time will tell if he’s going to be the best of the bunch, but he’s certainly on that trajectory. His sophomore season was impressive, and he’s going to be better with another year of experience. Opting to skip baseball in order to focus more on football could mean that he’ll have a better touch in the pocket for his middle-tier throws from playing 7-on-7 this spring and summer. He’s already demonstrated a deep ball that can go head-to-head with just about any other signal-caller in the state.”

Let’s stay on the quarterback theme at Brophy where Jason Jewell must replace the ultra-consistent EJ Warner. Who is in line to take over behind center at BCP? “EJ Warner, who’s at Temple now, is going to be tough to replace after leading this team into the 6A playoffs last season. Charlie McGinnis is the 2024 quarterback who will likely be the starter for the Broncos. He’s 6-4, 205 pounds and has all the tools to be successful. During spring practices, he was showcasing strong leadership skills and a willingness to learn from his coaches. Plus, he’ll also have plenty of weapons to throw to, including Layton Duncan who is one of the top 2023 wide receivers in the state.”

Mike Hudnutt, after eight seasons, resigned from Cave Creek Cactus Shadows at the end of the school year. Hudnutt did a nice job building the program and CS made the playoffs last year. On paper, how do the Falcons look heading into the season? “Cactus Shadows really had a solid season in 2021 and they did so with a nice mix of seniors and underclassmen on the roster. On paper, they can keep pace with what they did last year. The Falcons were 6-4 overall, but 5-1 in the 5A Northeast Valley Region. Desert Mountain won the region, but it could be a close battle between these two teams (Desert Mountain won 31-24 in their head-to-head matchup). I like their chances to be a playoff team, even after Hudnett stepped down.”