Contrary to how it sometimes seems, not every difference-making football player at Ohio State will go on to have success in the NFL. In fact, it is a small group that even makes it onto a Week One roster.
However, just because a former player fades away from the spotlight, it does not mean that they deserve to be forgotten. Some of the most important moments and memories from the last 20 years can be attributed to the players whose careers ended with a bowl game.
This is a series acknowledging forgotten Buckeyes; an ode to the players without pictures and plaques hanging in The Horseshoe. These guys all played a pivotal role in historic Ohio State moments, and should be remembered for their special contributions to OSU football.
Rickey Dudley | (1994-1995)
Ohio State has never been known as a tight end factory. Sure, in recent years, OSU has produced the likes of Ben Hartsock, Jeff Heuerman, etc. — but no recent Buckeye TE has been viewed as the next Tony Gonzales or Antonio Gates. Jim Tressel, Urban Meyer, and now Ryan Day, have chosen to use the position more as an in-line blocker who catches the occasional short pass or seam route. Perhaps Jeremy Ruckert can build upon his breakout 2020 and become more of the modern pass catching threat.
However, if we take a trip in the “Way Back Machine,” we’ll find that Ohio State did indeed have one of the OG slam-dunking power forwards turned versatile tight end. This two-sport athlete was drafted by the Raiders in the top 10 of the NFL draft… and I’m not talking about Bo Jackson.
Rickey Dudley was around 6-foot-7, 225 pounds coming out of high school in Henderson, Texas… and he returned punts… in 1990. He was Jimmy Graham 20 years before people knew about Jimmy Graham. He was an absolute athletic freak. In a 2020 article, Dudley was even referred to by at least one ESPN writer as the best high school prospect he ever covered.
Naturally, after being named the Texas 4A high school football Player of the Year, several powerhouse programs recruited him. Dudley chose to attend Ohio State, after spending a year at Fork Union Military Academy. Does that sound familiar? Yeah, OSU has enjoyed some success with players going that route.
Once on campus, Rickey Dudley would go on to appear in 26 games as a freshman. Uh... 26 games in a season you ask? That doesn’t sound right for a football schedule. Well, duh. This is the part where I remind you that Dudley was a two-sport star, and he chose Randy Ayers over Bobby Knight!
Despite being a highly sought-after football player out of the Lone Star state, and recruited to play on the hardwood by the legendary Knight, Dudley chose to play basketball for the Buckeyes.
His basketball career was ultimately nothing to brag about. He was the definition of a banger: relied on for physicality, rebounding, and defense. It started out well, with Buckeye legend Jim Jackson leading Ohio State to the Elite Eight during Dudley’s freshman season. However, it was all downhill from there. His time at OSU would also coincide with one of the worst stretches in basketball program history. The team’s record got progressively worse each year, and in Dudley’s senior season — although he averaged a career-best 13 points and eight rebounds — the basketball Buckeyes went 6-22. Yikes. The good news for Dudley, was that he had not gotten any smaller or weaker after high school, and he still had the football chops to give that sport another shot.
John Cooper and the football Buckeyes welcomed Dudley aboard starting his junior year. After a few years away from the gridiron, he played a limited role in his first season back. Dudley “only” managed nine catches for 106 yards. He “only” contributed those stats while playing in all 13 games, in the Big Ten, after multiple years away from the sport. If he had stopped there, it would have been impressive enough. But fortunately for both Dudley and the Buckeyes, he stuck with both sports and excelled on the football field.
As a senior, in only his second college football season, Dudley broke out with one of the most impressive seasons for a tight end in OSU history. He hauled in 37 catches for 575 yards and seven touchdowns. He was the second option and a major threat in Ohio State’s passing game, only taking a backseat to the late, great Terry Glenn.
Led by Eddie George, and with Dudley’s help, OSU went 11-2 in 1995. They appeared in and narrowly losing the Citrus Bowl; a game in which the Buckeye tight end had 106 yards receiving and was recognized with MVP honors.
If you saw him play, you saw a pass catcher the size of a defensive end sprinting down the field past linebackers and safeties. If you never saw him play, you should! Go down a YouTube rabbit hole.
During a time in which tight ends wore the high shoulder pads and a neck roll, and were primarily counted on to block, Dudley was a physical specimen turned legitimate weapon. He helped usher in the modern era of athletic, pass-catching tight ends.
No Ohio State tight end has matched his production since. Jake Stoneburner played a similar game, but lacked Dudley’s physical gifts. Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett were valuable assets who have achieved NFL success, but they played a different style of game. Those guys were drafted in later rounds because, frankly, they were seen as limited. Jeremy Ruckert is arguably already as talented a pass catcher as Dudley, but likely won’t achieve the same statistical success due to so many viable options on offense. In totality, if you look at all the factors, Ricky Dudley might be the most accomplished tight end to ever come out of OSU. In NFL terms, he certainly became the most successful.
Dudley was selected ninth overall in the 1996 NFL Draft, by the then-Oakland Raiders. He would go on to have a better career than most remember. In his first five seasons with Oakland, he averaged 37 receptions and over 520 yards. His best overall performance came in 1997, when he set career highs with 48 receptions and 787 yards, to go along with seven touchdowns. After his time in Oakland, injuries and age got the best of Dudley. He played in a total of 26 games over the next four years, and retired after the 2004 season. However, he was fortunate enough to win a ring in 2002 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Rickey Dudley was a trendsetter for his position, and became a tremendous weapon for the Buckeyes. Despite only playing football for two seasons (one as a backup), he is in the top 10 of numerous statistical categories for TEs at Ohio State. His unique blend of size and athleticism made him a rarity at OSU — both past and present.
Dudley is not often remembered these days, but his 1995 season remains one of the best in program history for the position. An all-time statistical season, a top-ten draft selection, and a Super Bowl ring to go with it all… not bad for a basketball player.