Travis returns to lead young secondary

The redshirt senior safety was out for all but one game last year with an injury.

Damarius Travis at TCF Bank Stadium on Sept. 3, 2015, where the Gophers faced TCU. The game was Travis' last of the 2015 season after he sustained a hamstring injury during a punt-return.

Liam James Doyle, Daily File Photo

Damarius Travis at TCF Bank Stadium on Sept. 3, 2015, where the Gophers faced TCU. The game was Travis’ last of the 2015 season after he sustained a hamstring injury during a punt-return.

Mike Hendrickson

Damarius Travis wasn’t anticipating playing a fifth year for the Gophers.
 
 
An injury in the first game of his senior season sidelined the safety, but he was granted a medical redshirt to return to the Minnesota secondary. 
 
 
The Gophers graduated three starters in their secondary this year, including likely NFL Draft picks Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun, but Travis’ return ensures the team will keep some experience on the back end.
 
 
“That’s a huge advantage for us on defense to have [Travis] back,” head coach Tracy Claeys said. “He does a great job of getting people lined up.”
 
 
Travis injured his hamstring on one of the last plays during the Gophers’ season-opening loss to Texas Christian University on Sept. 3. Another player collided with his leg on a punt return, and he said he felt pain immediately.
 
 
“The guy just hit my leg, and I heard a pop,” Travis said. “I just remember … screaming, rolling on the ground, getting up and limping off the field.”
 
 
Travis said at the time he didn’t think the injury would keep him off the field that long. He was even expecting to be back for the next game.
 
 
But by the middle of the season, he reinjured his hamstring and said he knew he was done.
 
 
“It hurt. It definitely hurt,” Travis said. “Being on the sideline, watching the game. … I’m out there calling plays and talking to the guys on the sideline. It hurt me because I wanted to play. I just wanted to play ball.”
 
 
He said he is feeling good now in the spring. He was named a co-captain before the team started practicing again.
 
 
As a redshirt senior, one of Travis’ main jobs will be to train the many young members of the Gophers secondary.
 
 
He will be one of the only veterans playing regularly, along with senior cornerback Jalen Myrick.
 
 
“It’s just me and Jalen now,” Travis said. “It’s definitely weird. We moved on past that, and it’s time for me and Jalen to step up to the plate [like] how [Boddy-Calhoun, Murray and Antonio Johnson] did when they were here.”
 
 
Both Claeys and Travis said sophomore KiAnte Hardin and redshirt freshman Ray Buford are new candidates to play at cornerback in the secondary with Myrick and Travis.
 
 
Hardin played in all 13 games last year mostly as a punt and kick returner, but he also spent some time in the secondary.
 
 
“[Hardin is] tough. He’s gained some weight and got his strength up,” Claeys said. “Ray Buford’s a big-time talent. … When he locks in and gets going, he’ll have a great career here. I’m really pleased with the secondary part of it right now where we’re at.”
 
 
Travis said he is also excited about how the secondary looks but said there’s still a lot of work to do in the spring.
 
 
“We’re still the underdogs. We still have a lot of work to do,” Travis said. “We’re nowhere near where we need to be, and that’s going to take a lot of hard work, a lot of focus. … Once we get guys to figure out to commit to the process, we’ll be better off.”