Lakeem Rudolph

Virginia Tech verbal commit Lakeem Rudolph (middle) with his brother Malik Wallace and mother Tanya Brown.

BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech verbal commit Lakeem Rudolph has come a long way in seven months.

A couple weeks after the Green Run football team wrapped up the 2018 season last November with a loss to Salem, Rudolph was hit by a car crossing the street outside his school before a charity basketball game.

Rudolph ended up in a hospital bed with a fractured jaw and a lower lumbar fracture.

When he verbally committed last week, Rudolph remembered the moments after the accident when he wasn’t sure if he would have any future on the field.

“When I got hit, I blacked out for a good three seconds on my way falling to the ground,” Rudolph said. “My adrenaline was running after that and I didn’t really know what was going on until I got to the hospital and felt everything.”

Rudolph distinctly recalls the waves of intense pain in his back. He went in for surgery to fix his jaw the day of the accident, but there was no quick fix for his back injury. Three days later he was discharged with a clear sense of what he needed to get healthy — time.

“It definitely took me a minute to get clear,” Rudolph said. “I was just waiting. I couldn’t do nothing with my back — no contact, running — just walking and being careful. The doctors said it was good that I was athletic and so young and energized. It would help my bone grow back fast.”

Rudolph patiently rehabbed while missing all of Green Run’s 22 regular season basketball games. It was a small price to pay with doctors giving him a clean bill of health before the playoffs and a positive outlook for the fall.

Virginia Tech didn’t start heavily recruiting Rudolph until he was already 100 percent cleared, but the Hokies knew all about Rudolph’s injury history when they offered him a scholarship.

Rudolph’s offer from Tech sparked interest from other schools including Cincinnati and Kent State, giving him a dozen scholarship offers heading into his senior year.

“There were some schools that held off just so they could see I how I was in person, they didn’t want to just take my coach’s word for it that I was ok,” Rudolph said.

Would Rudolph have more scholarship offers if he didn’t get injured? The three-star prospect isn’t sure, but he isn't spending much time thinking about either since he believes Virginia Tech is the “perfect fit.”

Keeping it real

Rudolph traveled to Blacksburg in early May for what turned out to be his most important college visit. The defender credits the time he spent with Armani Chatman and Phil Patterson for helping put the Hokies at the top of his list.

“They are originally from my area (Virginia Beach) and grew up with my older cousin, I was asking about the program and why they picked it, and they told me it was everything to them,” Rudolph said. “Everyone kept saying it was a brotherhood. That was a big deal to me. ”

But that doesn’t mean the coaching staff didn’t play an important role.

Virginia Tech running backs coach Zohn Burden handled Rudolph’s initial recruitment. Burden invited Rudolph to a Hokies camp when the Virginia native was just a sophomore. Tech’s new safeties coach Justin Hamilton became Rudolph’s primary recruiter in recent months.

“I have nothing but good words to say about him (Hamilton), he said he’s going to keep it real with me, and that’s all I ask, to be honest from the jump,” Rudolph said.

Both assistants also made a strong impression on Rudolph’s mother, Tanya Brown.

“I want her to know that whatever school the coaching staff is going to take care of her son,” Rudolph said. “She doesn't have to worry when she wasn’t with me. Virginia Tech is going to make me a better man outside the football field. I felt it was perfect.”

Switching sides

Virginia Tech is the lone school to recruit Rudolph on the defensive side of the ball. The other schools recruiting the three-star prospect all offered him as a receiver, but the Hokies loaded up on receivers in the 2019 signing class.

Rudolph acknowledges his breakout season came at the position as a sophomore. He started the year on the bench, but his time on the sidelines was short lived.

“I was behind one of our top receivers, but he moved over to quarterback in the third game of the season,” Rudloph said. “I seized the moment.”

Rudolph, the No. 24 ranked instate 2020 prospect, added safety to his responsibilities as a junior and will be a two-way starter again in the fall. His film from last year only has a few defensive highlights, but the ones there show a player comfortable attacking the line of scrimmage and making contact with the ball carrier.

The 6-foot-4, 202-pounder’s ability to outmuscle defensive backs to make contested catches also projects well for his future on defense.

“Before I made my decision, I sat and thought long and hard about it, if I wanted to play on the offensive side of the ball, but I’m liking defense more and more, and I wanted to get in where I fit in,” Rudlolph said. “I felt like I fit better at safety.”

Virginia Tech’s coaching staff compares Rudolph to junior safety Divine Deablo. The Hokies converted the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder from receiver to safety after his freshman year. Deablo jumped into the starting lineup in 2018 at free safety after missing the previous season with an ankle injury.

“They said my body structure looks just like him when I went down there,” Rudolph said. “I didn’t get to meet him, but they said I look just like him.”

Mike Niziolek is the Virginia Tech football beat writer for The Roanoke Times. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.