The fourth of Jackie and Nate Travis' five children had such a proclivity for debate as a child that they gave young Jalen a nickname.
"We used to call him 'The Governor,'" Nate said, "because he used to debate everything that we said to him."
Same thing with teachers. Not in a smart-alecky way. He was an intelligent, passionate, independent thinker who loved to research topics to support his point. Those around him nurtured his inquisitive nature.
"He could have been the noisy kid who got sat in a corner," Jackie said.
Jalen Travis is still out front leading with his heart and voice.
A senior left tackle at Princeton University, Travis has ambitions to play in the NFL after he concludes his college career this Saturday at Penn. He is a 6-9, 315-pound athletic tackle who followed older brothers Jonah and Reid as basketball standouts at DeLaSalle High.
If not football, his next step is certain to be impactful.
Travis' résumé is too lengthy and impressive to fit on one page. He helped start a nonprofit called The Just Action Coalition after George Floyd's murder with the goal of creating youth engagement in policy decisionmaking. Travis spent hours contacting and meeting with Twin Cities police chiefs, elected officials and community leaders to discuss ways to engage with young people.
"I can't just sit by and watch," he remembers thinking. "I know I can have a voice in these conversations."
In April, Travis was one of 62 college students nationwide awarded the Truman Scholarship, which provides recipients $30,000 to use toward graduate school with a focus on public service.
He interned last summer in the office of Sen. Amy Klobuchar in Washington, D.C. Travis worked on the Health, Education, Labor and Adoption portfolio. He called the work "one of the few truly life-changing experiences that I've had in terms of bringing clarity to what I want to do long-term, and bringing clarity to my own understanding of the policymaking process and how change is truly made."
He is majoring in legal and political anthropology with a minor in African American studies, while serving in leadership roles in numerous student organizations and boards on campus.
"It required a lot of intentionality on my part, especially knowing how busy football life is," he said. "My passions outside of football are very much a part of who I am. Being at a place like Princeton, I would be remiss if I didn't take advantage of every opportunity that knocked at my door."
Princeton coach Bob Surace considers himself lucky to coach a player with Travis' worldly perspective and wide-ranging interests.
"Sometimes when I meet with Jalen and he leaves and I'm like, gosh, I wonder if Butch van Breda Kolff felt this way about Bill Bradley?" Surace said.
Van Breda Kolff was Princeton's men's basketball coach when Bradley was a star player before becoming an NBA champion and U.S. Congressman. That compliment gives some insight into the impression Travis has made on campus.
"He's leaving a footprint," father Nate said.
Travis credits his parents for exposing him to a life of service and sacrifice. Both Jackie and Nate worked multiple jobs to make sure their five kids had opportunities to play high-level sports and attend DeLaSalle. Nate took a job in maintenance at DeLaSalle after retiring from a career in education as a trade-off for tuition costs.
Their hard work and sacrifices are reflected in their children's success.
Child No. 1: Jonah played basketball at Harvard and is now an entrepreneur in New York City.
No. 2: Reid played basketball at Stanford, then Kentucky, and now is playing for the Indiana Pacers' G-League team.
No. 3: Olivia played college basketball at multiple schools and is now an assistant coach at Western Illinois.
No. 4: Jalen.
No. 5: Grace is a sophomore beach volleyball player at St. Mary's College in California.
Said Jackie: "You have to work. Nothing is handed to you."
She was at a gas station recently when a man approached her to say hello. He had coached Jalen in football when he was in elementary school. The man told Jackie that he knew back then that Jalen would make a difference in the world and that he is proud of him.
"It's a blessing," she said.
That's how this former DeLaSalle student body president feels about his Princeton career. He never lost grip on his priorities as a student-athlete.
"For me, it's always living by the principle that you always make time for the things that you care about or love the most," he said. "Within that is this work and this need to do good and be good and leave the world in a better place. That has been my driving ethos."
He next has his sights on the NFL. Then law school. Beyond that, he isn't sure. Maybe someday more than just his family will call him "The Governor."
. . .
AROUND THE STATE
Running with Hart
Travis Walch was an All-America running back at Winona State, and he coached standout running backs as an assistant coach at the University of St. Thomas.
Walch knows an exceptional running back when he sees one. And he sees one every day now as head coach at St. Thomas Academy. Walch is surprised more college recruiters haven't taken notice of Savion Hart, a senior who has guided the Cadets to the Class 5A semifinals.
"I've never coached anyone at the level they were at that's this good," Walch said. "I don't know why the domino [in recruiting] hasn't fallen yet. Look at the film."
Hart ranks second in the state in rushing yards (2,189) and touchdown runs (34) despite getting only 21 carries per game. He averages 9.3 yards per carry.
Hart rushed for 271 yards and five touchdowns in the quarterfinals against an Owatonna defense that had limited opponents to 92 yards rushing per game.
Hart has received college interest from North Dakota and St. Thomas but not much beyond that. Walch compares the 5-11, 195-pound Hart to former Maple Grove and Northwestern tailback Evan Hull.
"He's really a unique runner," Walch said of Hart. "It's hard to even explain at times his style. He's just so powerful. He's got burst. He's got patience. He's got vision. He's just got a lot of the things you want in a running back."
. . .
Game ballsKevin O'Connell: Head coaches usually hand out game balls, not receive them, but KOC has done a masterful job of pulling his team out of an 0-3 hole and managing a quarterback crisis by guiding Joshua Dobbs through a sudden midseason transition.Riley Toivonen: Grand Rapids senior kicker was named Academic All-State by the Minnesota Football Coaches Association, becoming the first female recipient of that honor from the MFCA. Toivonen, a former soccer player, made 10 of 13 extra-point attempts this season and handled 21 kickoffs in her first season of football.Mac Strand: Minnesota Duluth linebacker collected a career-high 16 tackles and 1½ sacks to lead his team's 33-21 upset of Minnesota State Mankato.He said what?!
"It's a little like street ball, which is fun, so you just got to continue to play through the whistle because you just never know what's going to happen."
— Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson on Joshua Dobbs' elusiveness and scrambling ability.
Numbers to know
6: National ranking for the Gophers' third-down defense last season in limiting opposing offenses to 28% conversion success.
115: National ranking for the Gophers' third-down defense this season, at 45%.
1: Passing touchdown for Dassel-Cokato this season, which came in the first quarter Saturday of a 14-7 win over Minneapolis North in the Class 3A quarterfinals.
21: Interceptions for the Bethel defense, the team's most since 2007 and tied for the third-highest total in Division III this season.
. . .
Grab your popcorn
U.S. Bank Stadium, Thursday-Saturday. There are 28 high school teams still alive in the playoffs as the action moves to the big stadium in downtown Minneapolis. One win away from reaching the Prep Bowl.
An important 48 hours for:
Joe Rossi. The Gophers defensive coordinator's unit got embarrassed at Purdue on Saturday. Allowing 600 yards and 49 points to a bad Purdue offense was inexcusable. Now the Gophers face college football's best receiver in Ohio State's Marvin Harrison Jr. on Saturday. There is a lot for Rossi to address to get his defense prepared for that assignment.
. . .
A FAM FINAL WORD
If you watched the Gophers on Saturday and the Vikings on Sunday, there is no other way to summarize the overarching mood of each team. One team has deflated its fan base, the other one has reinvigorated its followers.
. . .
Thank you for reading Football Across Minnesota (FAM), my weekly column that tours football topics in our state from preps to pros. I'll publish this each Tuesday morning in time for your lunch-hour reading, and you can find all the previous FAM columns right here. I appreciate feedback, so please reach out anytime. Thanks again — Chip (@chipscoggins on X)