Lineman Travis Grows Into a Force for PU Football, On NFL Radar Heading Into Senior Season for Tigers
STANDING TALL: Princeton University football star offensive lineman Jalen Travis catches his breath between plays in a game last year. The 6’9, 315-pound Travis has emerged as a force at tackle for Princeton, earning 2022 second-team All-Ivy League honors as a junior and getting named to the 2024 Senior Bowl Watchlist and East-West Shrine Bowl 1000 list heading into this fall. Travis and the Tigers kick off the 2023 campaign by playing at the University of San Diego on September 16. (Photo by Sideline Photos, provided courtesy of Princeton Athletics)
By Bill Alden
As Jalen Travis headed into high school in 2016, it looked like his athletic future would center on basketball.
One of his older brothers, Reid, played hoops at Stanford and Kentucky and is currently playing pro ball overseas while another older brother, Jonah, starred for the Harvard men’s basketball team.
But as Travis went through DeLaSalle High in Minneapolis, Minn., he grew into a standout offensive lineman in football, earning first-team All-State and Minnesota All-Star honors as a senior. That success had Travis turning his focus to someday playing in the NFL.
Attracting attention from major college football programs, including getting an offer from local Big 10 power University of Minnesota, Travis decided that heading to Princeton and the Ivy League was his best option on and off the field.
“Part of the reason which convinced my family and me to come here was the coaching staff and the belief in coach [Bob] Surace that if I come here and play football, I can achieve all of my dreams on the field that I would at a different school,” said Travis. “The NFL is always a dream of a competitor, especially when you start playing this game. You want to play at the highest level but you also know that coming here, I would be able to get a world-class education and have the world’s best insurance policy per se.”
Developing into an All-Ivy League offensive lineman, the 6’9, 315-pound Travis is definitely on the radar on the NFL, earning 2022 second-team All-Ivy League honors as a junior and getting named to the 2024 Senior Bowl Watchlist and East-West Shrine Bowl 1000 list heading into this fall.
“I definitely feel like I am on track [for the NFL]; obviously I am very appreciative of the accolades and things like that, but I think the main thing is the main thing, which is the preseason camp,” said Travis, a star in the classroom as well, having earned a Truman Scholarship, which provides up to $30,000 toward graduate school along with professional development opportunities to prepare for careers in public service that he plans to use for attending law school after his football career.
“I am trying to block out all of the noise and pay attention to these 10 games that we have to build toward the championship. Personal stuff aside, that is the main mission to make sure that we can do that.”
With Travis seeing his freshman season in 2020 canceled due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns, he went on a mission to build himself up physically.
“It was hard, I built a weight room in my back yard at home so that was the deal,” said Travis. “I was at home for the first semester of my freshman year … and then had the opportunity to come on campus but classes were still online. I ended up putting on 20 pounds that year, my strength went through the roof.”
Arriving on campus later that school year, Travis benefited from getting the chance to go through spring practice.
“It was awesome, especially for the freshmen coming in, to learn the playbook and just learn the way that we do things here,” said Travis. “It was super valuable with just getting into the rhythm of things heading into fall camp the next year.”
As a sophomore, Travis got into the rhythm of the college game, seeing action on special teams and as a reserve offensive lineman.
“Not playing football for a year which is something I had never done before,” said Travis. “Heading into that sophomore year, it was awesome to be able to contribute on three special teams units but also be a two at left tackle and play significant minutes. That was huge for me to just get my feet wet and get a taste of what college football is really like. I had the size but it was just adjusting to the speed of the game, our tempo offense and things like that. It was a huge adjustment for me.”
In his junior campaign last fall, Travis utilized his hoops experience as he became a starter as right tackle, moving from his usual left tackle spot.
“Switching to the right side was a position I hadn’t played for an entire season,” said Travis. “At that point, I think my basketball background helped. I was a forward in basketball. It was almost a seamless transition. The coach was very diligent to make sure that I got my proper reps during spring ball. Heading into fall camp, I was very comfortable and was able to ride.”
Riding with star left tackle Henry Byrd, now a member of the Minnesota Vikings practice squad, helped Travis develop throughout his Princeton career.
“From the moment I walked into this place, Henry took me under his wing and showed me the ropes,” said Travis. “He was a mentor my whole way through here, so it was awesome to be able to play with him and learn from him throughout the entire process. I wanted to not only taste what it is like to play in the Ivy League but to excel.”
The combo of Travis and Bird anchoring the offensive line helped the Tigers finish first in passing offense and second in rushing offense in the Ivy League last fall.
“We had weapons all over the field and we knew that we had a chance to win,” said Travis. “We were favored to win, so that was the mentality we carried with us and the swagger that we still have today. It was awesome to be able to walk out with Andrei [Iosivas], Dylan [Classi], Blake [Stenstrom], and Henry and to know that we had some of the best people in the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision).”
But despite possessing all of these weapons, the Tigers lost their final two games (falling 24-20 to Yale and 20-19 to Penn) last season after rolling to an 8-0 start. Princeton ended up tying Penn for second in the league standings with a 5-2 Ivy mark, one game behind champion Yale.
“It left a sour taste in our mouth for sure; it jump-started our offseason training and our motivation heading into spring ball, and winter workouts,” said Travis, reflecting on the disappointing finish. “We know that we don’t want to experience that again, knowing that we came short of our potential. That was the mindset all of the way through spring ball, all of the way through the workouts, and now into fall camp. We know what we have and what we can do and we don’t ever want to experience something like that again.”
Travis likes what he is seeing so far in Princeton’s’ preseason camp.
“A lot of guys had been chomping at the bit, given our finish last year, to get back into it and get back in the rhythm because we know we have a lot of dangerous pieces,” said Travis. “We have a lot of pieces that are going to fit together to give us a really great team this year. We want to be one of the best in Princeton history, that is what I am looking forward to. I think the team is looking forward to that as well.”
In striving for that goal, Travis has assumed a leadership role with the offensive line.
“We have got a few young guys that are plugging in this year to be starters,” said Travis, who has moved back to his customary left tackle spot. “Guys that are going to step up in huge roles that maybe didn’t have a lot of snaps last year and the years prior. It is going to be huge for us. We are working our best to make sure that we are all own the same page.”
Princeton quarterback Stenstrom likes having Travis working in front of him.
“He has got my blind side and it feels great to have him there,” said Stenstrom of Travis. “I feel very confident in his abilities as well as the rest of the offensive line.”
For Tiger head coach Surace, seeing the development of Travis has been great.
“He used every day of COVID and he got stronger and bigger to our surprise when he came in as a sophomore,” said Surace. “Physically he was mature enough and played. Junior year he started, but he suffered an injury midway through and played through it but it caused him to miss the spring. His upside is through the roof. He has been primarily a right tackle with Henry on the left, but now he is going to play left tackle.”
Looking ahead to Princeton’s season opener at the University of San Diego (0-1) on September 16, Travis is excited to play the Toreros.
“They have a really good program, they are a great team; it is going to be a challenge for us right out of the gate, but that is what we need and that is what we are working for right now,” said Travis. “I am excited to go against some great guys and some guys who have a shot to play at the next level as well.”
In the view of Travis, the formula for Princeton to enjoy a great season this fall is simple.
“It is just being consistent and disciplined; last year we struggled towards the end of the season,” said Travis. “We were a couple of plays away, it is something we can control. Our main mission is to make sure that we reach our potential and the goals that we set for ourselves.”