That’s all Cody Rudy has ever needed throughout his life.
He wasn’t recruited highly out of Shenandoah High School where he was a two-time all-state linebacker and three-time team MVP. He didn’t even know where he would be attending college until two months prior to graduation.
When Ball State offered him a walk-on spot, he was excited, but he didn’t feel quite right.
“I didn’t know if I would be able to make it at the Division I level or not,” Rudy said. “Probably wasn’t the right mindset to have, but I came in with a mindset of I don’t know if I belong here or not.”
You wouldn’t know it from his first days of practice. He quickly earned a reputation for his work ethic and willingness to go all out in practice.
“My first impression of him was he was eager to learn,” redshirt senior linebacker Jacob White said. “He was definitely more like stick his nose in it and hit people. When he’s in the game, you can expect pads to be poppin’ for sure. He’s running down the field with reckless abandon.”
Rudy’s work ethic didn’t land him playing time his freshman year as he took a redshirt season. What it did land him was a new position and a new number.
When Rudy arrived at Ball State, head coach Mike Neu said the linebacker position was already deep and talented. Neu still wanted to try to find a way to get Rudy on the field.
“The way he plays the game — the effort he plays with and physicality he plays with — You love those two things he brings to the table,” Neu said.
Given Rudy’s size, strength and skillset, Neu tried him out at fullback. As a redshirt freshman in 2017, Rudy was the only fullback on the team.
“I came into camp saying, ‘Hey, really I’m just competing with myself every day. I’m not competing against anybody, but the better I do, the more I’m going to get an opportunity to play on game day.’”
Rudy got the opportunity in game two against UAB. He got one play. One shot.
“They gave me one snap, and I executed my job well,” Rudy said.
The next week, he got a couple more snaps. The next week, a couple more. He continued to work and improve. He ended up playing in every game that season with two starts, all while donning the No. 8 on his jersey; Neu reserves single-digit numbers for those who earn it through their work ethic, effort and accountability.
The next season came, and while Rudy had accomplished his top goal of getting onto the field, he had a new goal in mind: a scholarship.
Neu said every walk-on’s dream should be to earn a scholarship, and you do that through “good old-fashioned hard work.”
Rudy was given a single-digit number before taking a snap, so he had to be close.
August 17, 2018, former Cardinal offensive lineman Jason Whitlock Facetimed the team during a meeting. He talked about former Ball State greats and how they reminded him of Rudy, someone who “has proven he is worthy of a scholarship.”
Pandemonium ensued as teammates jumped on Rudy, who was sitting in the front row taking his biggest sigh of relief to date.
“I was just like, ‘Oh, finally,’” Rudy said.
His hard work had paid off.
“It was cool to be a part of it,” Neu said. “Certainly, it gives me chills, and you get choked up because you’re happy to see a young man and hard work pay off.”
His fairytale wasn’t over.
Rudy and Chris Crumb, Ball State’s starting nose tackle, had convinced offensive coordinator Joey Lynch to at least practice a few plays with the duo in the backfield.
“I told coach Lynch, ‘If you ever throw a ball to Chris before I get a ball, I’m quitting that day,’ joking, obviously,” Rudy said. “He was like, ‘Alright, we’ll give you one shot. You better not drop it.’”
One shot. He got it Sept. 7, 2019, in Ball State’s opener at Scheumann Stadium. The Cardinals were at the 3-yard-line, knocking on the end zone’s door. Rudy ran an out-route to the left, and he caught the pass with no one around him for his first touchdown of his career. Again, his teammates mobbed him.
“Everything he’s worked for just paid off with one catch,” White said. “It’s definitely a special experience to see that happen.”
For Rudy, it was just another checkmark on his list.
“It was pretty exciting,” Rudy said. “I guess it’s not really been a huge goal of mine, but it’s nice to just have under your belt.”
He’s no longer watching from the sidelines. He’s no longer waiting on a scholarship. He’s accomplished what he has set out to do for himself.
So, what’s next on Rudy’s to-do list?
“Getting our team where we need to go.”
That’s the Mid-American Conference Championship, and Neu believes Rudy is one of many who can get the team there.
“Cody’s never looked back, we’ve never looked back and he’s been a major asset for our team,” Neu said. “He embraces his role, and he’s a guy we lean on a lot.”
For now, that box remains unchecked as the current mindset is winning one game at a time. Saturday, Ball State hosts Florida Atlantic at 2 p.m. in Scheumann Stadium. during Family Weekend.