It’s official: Rudolph gone after three seasons

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Our original scoop last night has been confirmed this morning by Notre Dame: Kyle Rudolph is forgoing his senior season at Notre Dame and heading to the NFL.

“I truly feel blessed for the last three years of my life at Notre Dame,” Rudolph said in a statement released by the university. “It has been a great experience I wouldn’t trade for anything and wish everyone could experience something like this just once in his or her life. It has also been a dream of mine to play in the National Football League and so I will forgo my final season of eligibility at Notre Dame and enter my name for the 2011 NFL Draft.”

In the same statement, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly had this to say about his talented tight end.

“Kyle Rudolph has a very bright future ahead of him and he will instantly make some lucky NFL team much better next year,” Kelly said. “I know this was a tough decision for Kyle because of the great relationships he formed at Notre Dame and he will be missed in the locker room next year. But we are happy for him and his family and are excited to watch him represent the University of Notre Dame during this next chapter of his life.”

Rudolph was a semi-finalist for the John Mackey Award in both 2009 and 2010, given to the top tight end in the country, even though he was hampered by injuries in both seasons.

With Rudolph gone, the spotlight at the position turns to Tyler Eifert as the unquestioned starter, one of the season’s top surprises, filling in more than admirably for Rudolph when he went down with a season-ending hamstring injury. It also means that the Irish could bring reserve tight end Mike Ragone back for a fifth year. Even though Ragone didn’t make a huge mark statistically, he’s a strong and physical blocker that was used often in two tight end sets.

The Irish held freshman Alex Welch out this year, preserving a year of eligibility and welcome in touted recruit Ben Koyack, one of the best tight ends in the nation, leaving the cupboard far from bare even with Rudolph’s departure.

Still no word on the decision of wide receiver Michael Floyd, who will also decide whether or not to return for his senior season.