Penn College student-athlete covers all 'bases'

September 30, 2020

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. – Pennsylvania College of Technology baseball coach Chris Howard didn’t expect the recruit to showcase speed. His years playing professional baseball and coaching the Wildcats convinced him that 6-foot-5, 220-pound first basemen aren’t typically fleet of foot. 

Then he saw Tyler S. Rudolph run.

“His power at the plate jumped out at me, but I was surprised and impressed how fast he was for a kid that size,” a delighted Howard said. “Foot speed isn’t essential for what we expect of him, but it’s certainly a plus. He might even get a few stolen bases before he’s done at Penn College.”

From Rudolph’s perspective, the “speed” he exhibited for Howard was 'turtle-esque.' He’s used to being a blur. The native of Hemlock, New York, is an experienced drag racer.

Thanks to that pursuit, his academic and athletic endeavors at Penn College, and co-founding a clothing line, Rudolph is covering all bases for future success.

“To be honest, I don’t know how I fit it all in,” he said.

So far, so good.

The engineering design technology student is earning high marks in the classroom and expected to be a key contributor to the Wildcat baseball team for the next couple of years. The budding entrepreneur is pleased with initial sales of his clothing brand and proud of a recent full-size dragster win at his home track.

All of those pursuits can be traced to Rudolph’s childhood. His softball-loving mom introduced him to baseball. His father, a veteran drag racer, inspired him to explore that pursuit. A dream shared with his best friend birthed the clothing line. And a lifelong love of tinkering and creating led him to engineering design.

“My two favorite things to do really are baseball and drag racing,” Rudolph said. “It’s the competition. You have that one-on-one aspect I like a lot. In baseball, it’s you against the pitcher, and in racing, you have to be better than the person next to you in each round.”

Rudolph has excelled at both sports, but doesn’t let either overshadow his ultimate goal of becoming a design engineer, preferably in the automotive industry. In fact, the quality of Penn College’s engineering design program played a bigger role than baseball in choosing the school.

“I really like the hands-on aspect,” he said. “In my program, you are able to get right into it and start designing on the computer. Plus, I’m taking two electives this semester which I don’t think you could take just anywhere — welding and automotive painting.”

Katherine A. Walker, assistant professor of engineering design technology and Rudolph’s adviser, is impressed with his studious approach.

“Tyler is a very good student who is proactive with our academic advisement sessions and has a strong sensibility regarding his academic performance,” she said. “While I knew about Tyler being on the baseball team, I did not know about his other interests. His ability to multitask is impressive.”

On the diamond, Rudolph earned considerable playing time at first base and was hitting .286 when the COVID-19 pandemic canceled his freshman season after just 10 games.

“We just got going, and we were looking forward to the season. It was kind of devastating,” he said.

But Rudolph had plenty to fill the baseball void, like launching Hill Top Clothing. The company he co-founded with his friend, Max Yale, is a lifestyle clothing brand featuring comfortable T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, hats and accessories.

“Whether you’re outside fishing and hunting or just hanging at your house with your friends, you can wear our clothes pretty much anywhere,” Rudolph said. “Max and I always wanted to do something together, businesswise. We thought a clothing brand would be a really cool way to express ourselves.”

Rudolph designed the Hill Top logo, which pays homage to the hilly landscape surrounding their treasured Hemlock, a hamlet south of Rochester in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. The logo is either screen printed or embroidered on clothing they secure from various suppliers. The “fulfillment center” for the company’s online orders is usually the basement of Rudolph’s house. 

“So far, the sales have been going pretty good,” Rudolph said. “We didn’t start this just to make some money. We enjoy doing it. We’re going to expand a little bit and start making sweatpants, rain jackets and beanies.”

One of the marketing vehicles for Hill Top is Rudolph’s rear-engine dragster. The company logo is displayed on the 2,000-pound car. Most weekends from April through October, Rudolph races at Empire Dragway in Leicester, New York, and at other tracks throughout the mid-Atlantic. 

But if spectators blink, they’ll miss the Hill Top signage and other sponsor logos. Rudolph’s car goes 145 mph and covers an eighth-mile track in 4.7 seconds. 

“It takes some time to get used to that speed, but after a little while, it just seems like taking a stroll down the racetrack,” he said. “I feel the G-forces pushing me back in the seat more than the speed.”

Rudolph’s father raced the car — made of chromoly tubing and powered by a 548 cubic inch big block Chevy engine — before turning it over to his son last year.  Rudolph had been competing in a junior dragster since he was 13.

“My dad’s been racing his whole life, and I grew up watching him race,” Rudolph said. “Now he likes watching me race more than anything.”

During the week, the elder Rudolph prepares the car while his son concentrates on school. Rudolph typically heads home after class on Friday for the next day’s races. Sunday is spent fine-tuning the car before he makes the two-hour trek back to the Penn College campus.

“You have to have good reaction time when that green light comes on, and you have to judge the finish line well. It gets really close at the finish line, like tens of thousands of a second. But if your car isn’t good, you are not going to win,” Rudolph said.

To win, a driver has to survive several heats and then come out on top in the finals. Rudolph’s recent victory at Empire Dragway was his second in a full-size dragster. As for any prize money, that is mostly earmarked for the car.

“It’s not a very lucrative business,” Rudolph said with a smile.

Since he’s covering all bases, he doesn’t need it to be.

Penn College offers bachelor’s degrees in engineering design technology and industrial design, as well as an associate degree in engineering CAD technology.

For information about those and other majors from the School of Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520 or visit www.pct.edu/et.

Penn College is a national leader in applied technology education. Visit www.pct.edu, email admissions@pct.edu or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated September 30, 2020