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Kyle Rudolph

Before reporting to Minnesota Vikings' training camp for the seventh year, tight end Kyle Rudolph chatted with ThePostGame. The 27-year-old Notre Dame alum talks about his team's two high-caliber quarterbacks, a potential home Super Bowl, playing against his idols and the prospects for the Fighting Irish in 2017.

ThePostGame: The regular season opens up for you on Monday Night Football at home against the Saints, Sept. 11. How excited you are for this season?
KYLE RUDOLPH: Extremely excited. I think we did a lot this offseason to not only improve our roster, but to put us in a situation to go out and win a lot of football games this year. We have one of the best coaching staffs in the NFL, and they've worked tirelessly to fix the things that we didn't execute last year that cost us some football games. So, I'm chomping at the bit to get out there for training camp and start preparing and building on what we did in OTAs and minicamp to get ready for the 2017 season.

TPG: Take us through what Kyle Rudolph is doing to get ready for this season on the practice field, in the gym, with what you're eating, everything that goes into your routine for the next month.
RUDOLPH: Well, the biggest thing is making sure that you're prepared for training camp, and it's one thing that I've learned, now going into my seventh NFL training camp. You want to make sure you're not peaking right now in August. Your training is geared towards continuing to improve, and I plan on going down to Mankato this training camp and getting better each and every day. You can't do that without proper nutrition and diet. Being part of the fuel up to Play 60 program here with Land O'Lakes and the NFL, I've learned a lot about what it takes to really fuel your body to prepare and really play at the highest level.

TPG: You're a tight end, always have been in the NFL, but let's talk about quarterbacks really quickly. You've been in the NFL since 2011, so you've had your fair share of QBs, and we'll talk about Teddy Bridgewater in a second, but I'm curious what kind of impact Sam Bradford has had on your club since he came on last season.
RUDOLPH: Well, what Sam did last year was nothing short of incredible. To come in 15 days before his first start against the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers on Sunday Night Football and the home opener of our brand new incredible stadium, he came in and went head-to-head with one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He continued that success throughout the season and to do that on such short notice and to come in and not only learn a playbook but to learn personnel and to be comfortable with that personnel and go out and execute every week was amazing, and I don't think he gets enough credit for the season that he had last year. Now moving forward to this year, he's had an offseason with all of us, we've had an off season with our new offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur, and we're excited to be much improved on offense heading into next season. 

TPG: Moving on to Teddy now, I know all Vikings fans are extremely anxious to see how he's doing and how much better he's getting with the progress since the injury. For someone who's been in the locker room with him, what have you seen?
RUDOLPH: I see a kid who's had the best mindset and the best attitude toward his rehab each and every day.  He's been determined since this injury happened last August to get back on the field, and he hasn't lost sight of that.  He's a kid that works extremely hard, he's a kid who's respected by every player and coach and member of our organization, not because of the football player he is, but because of the type of kid that he is. That's why I know Teddy will get through this, and this will be something that when he looks back on his career, may have been a bump in the road, but it'll be something that he's getting through.

TPG: A bigger picture question now. You've been with the Vikings your whole career and your team is a contender every season, got a taste of the postseason a couple years back, and you mentioned, the Super Bowl is coming to Minneapolis, you've got a new stadium.  What does this franchise mean to you if you can put that into words? What do you think of the direction you guys have moving forward as well?
RUDOLPH: Well it's hard to put to words, but one thing I can say about our organization is, from the top down, extremely high-character, hard-working individuals that do everything they can to help us win on Sundays. From our ownership down to the 53rd player on our roster, it's a selfless and unselfish team that goes out each and every week, and we do all we can to win football games. I think that's something we embody because of our head coach and the way our head coach preaches each and every week to be bigger than yourself and to be part of the team and I think our team really embodies that.

TPG: As part of Super Bowl LII in Minnesota, you're on board with this very special project with Land O'Lakes and GENYOUth, so tell me more about this Land O'Lakes Farm Bowl.
RUDOLPH: I'm extremely excited to partner with Land O'Lakes in presenting the Land O'Lakes Farm Bowl presented by GENYOUth. Make no mistake about it, I plan on playing in the Super Bowl, but I'm extremely excited to be a part of this special project. It allows me as a professional athlete to use my platform to encourage young kids to not only want to grow up and be professional athletes, to be lawyers, to be doctors, but to realize how cool and how important modern farming is. We won't have the food on our tables if it wasn't for all of our great farmers all across this country and it's the number one source of food that's provided to us. So, to show these kids what modern farming is like, and kind of give them an idea, and to teach them that this is a possibility and something that they may dream and aspire to be one year.

TPG: Have you had a chance at any part of your career now -- seven years -- to play against some of the guys that you've idolized growing up or in your early career?  And how would that work? If it's a defender, would you have a quick interaction at the line of scrimmage? Or someone on an opposing team, maybe their tight end perhaps, after a game or after an event? Who is someone you've met over the years, maybe one of your favorites in the NFL?

RUDOLPH: Well, this league, although very competitive, it's a brotherhood and there are a lot of guys that I've played with and played against that I've looked up to throughout most of my childhood. That really kind of culminated for me in 2013 when I had the opportunity to play in the Pro Bowl and my room was next door to Champ Bailey and two doors down from Peyton Manning, two guys that I grew up watching and idolizing their professionalism and the way they worked and went about their game. But also, throughout my career, I've played against a ton of guys -- Brian Dawkins, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, who's still playing today -- guys that I've respected to the upmost level, go out and compete each and every day.  But it's really cool, after a game, when you've left it all out on the field and you can shake hands with someone that you've looked up to your entire life.

TPG: Soon, you're going to be a name on that list as well for other players.
RUDOLPH: (Laughs) Unfortunately I'm creeping up on that age quickly.

TPG: Born and raised in Cincinnati, let's talk about your sports fandom growing up a little bit. Were you a Cincinnati Bengals guy as a kid?
RUDOLPH: I grew up just a huge fan of sports in general, whether it was football, basketball, baseball. I watched everything on TV all the time. I grew up with a family -- my grandpa graduated from Elder High School, my dad graduated from Elder High School, I knew I was going to Elder High School, at the time I knew what the color purple was. So, for me, a fall weekend was getting done with practice on Friday and getting to the Elder High School football game on, and then getting up on Saturday, having our games, watching college football games all day long. And then waking up on Sunday and watching the NFL. For me, I just never could get enough and I was just a huge fan of the game in general.

TPG: Then, eventually, you go to Notre Dame. Notre Dame, 4-8 season last year, dare I say disappointing.  What do you think about the Fighting Irish in 2017? They've got USC, Miami, Stanford, opening up with Temple. That's kind of a tough schedule, so what's your take on how they'll do?
RUDOLPH: That's one of the things, when you commit to play football at the University of Notre Dame, you know you're going to play the best all across the country. That's part of the reason why they're not in a conference. They take pride in having one of the toughest schedules year-in and year-out.  But I've been around that program long enough to know, those guys are doing everything they can this offseason to bounce back from that disappointing season and a lot of changes have been made to the coaching staff and a lot of people feel like they have something to prove. I'm excited to see how the Irish come out this year and play.

TPG: One last question for you Kyle. I've found that some people are calling you "Big Country." There are some very well-known nicknames in the wide world of sports -- you've got "Big Hurt" Frank Thomas, "Big Sexy" Bartolo Colon. You're 6-6, 265 pounds, or at least listed at that height and weight, where did "Big Country" come from? It makes total sense, but what's the story behind it?
RUDOLPH: Big Country was a nickname given to me by Barstool Big Cat and PFTCommenter. It is a nickname that at the time, may not have fit. I explained to them that I had never spent a day in the country in my life, but then their rebuttal was that the United States is a country. So, that's how the nickname was born and now through the Land O'Lakes Farm Bowl, I've had the opportunity to spend a lot of time out on a dairy farm in Minnesota and I feel like I'm really at roots with my nickname Big Country now and I'm excepted to embody it.