Damarius Travis anchors secondary with elite play

Travis is tied for first on the team for interceptions and is second in tackles.

Damarius Travis at TCF Bank Stadium on Sept. 3, 2015, where the Gophers faced TCU.

Liam James Doyle, Daily File Photo

Damarius Travis at TCF Bank Stadium on Sept. 3, 2015, where the Gophers faced TCU.

Mike Hendrickson

Reporters occasionally ask defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel if safety Damarius Travis had a good game on Saturday.

Sawvel has the same answer each time.

“[I] don’t have to worry about him … I got asked last week something about him, well he plays good every week, really,” Sawvel said. “Move on, who’s the next guy? That’s kind of the way it is.”

That’s been that way for the eight Minnesota games this season.

Travis has started them all and excelled in each one, Sawvel said.

The redshirt senior is tied for first on the team in interceptions and is second on the team in tackles.

Sawvel said it isn’t what Travis does that makes him arguably the Gophers’ best defensive player, it’s how he elevates the skill level of his surrounding teammates.

“I think he makes the game easier for them because … they can get lined up quick and they know what they’re looking at quick, and he does his job,” Sawvel said. “There’s a big comfort in that. It’s a sign of a good player. Good players typically, by doing what they need to do, typically can make other people around them a little bit better.”

Travis played in 40 games with the Gophers before the start of this season, but he took on a new role this season — a leader.

Before Travis, there’s been a long line of strong leadership from the Gophers’ secondary.

Minnesota has had three defensive backs drafted into the NFL the past three years. All three were captains.

Travis played with all of the defensive backs during his earlier years with the Gophers.

“I just remember being dominant and just being in guys’ face all game and just getting after it,” Travis said. “That’s the type of mentality that we had with the DBs. It was just that type.”

Travis, a captain himself, looks primed to be the next one selected to the NFL.

Sawvel emphasized how good Travis is on special teams, which will lead to his success in the NFL.

“He’s a great special teams player,” Sawvel said. “He’ll be on every special team. He’s big. He can run. He can play deep. He can play near the box. He can tackle. Don’t have to worry about him.”

Travis said that he has been a leader by making sure the other defensive backs go to the film room.

“Just being a vocal leader. When guys are down, just bringing them up. Being that backbone really,” Travis said. “Being the helping hand for the defense because I know like everything is not going to go good within the [defensive back] core. That’s with anything in life.”

Travis’ counterpart this season has been freshman safety Antoine Winfield Jr.

Before the season started, Travis said he wanted to be the bridge between the talented Gophers defensive backs of the past to the future ones.

He said he has been sure to give Winfield Jr. plenty of advice before games.

“Practice is way harder than the game,” Travis said. “The game is easy and that was a thing I always say to him … just relax and play football because at the end of the day, we just playing football.”