College athletic teams often don’t know what they’re getting when they add a transfer to the roster. Some pan out, others don’t. It took a while, but time has proven that the Chadron State football team hit the jackpot when it landed Travis Wilson of Fresno, Calif.
That’s the case even through the 6-foot-1, 220-pound linebacker didn’t have the best grades and was nursing a sore shoulder when he arrived on campus in the spring of 2017, preventing him from playing that fall.
He’s definitely has made up for lost time, both on the field and in the classroom. He’s also never been injured since joining the Eagles.
Counting last fall’s shortened schedule when college athletes could play without expending a year of eligibility, this will be his fourth season as a starter for the Eagles. Heading into his final year, Wilson is already regarded as one of the best linebackers Chadron State has had in recent years and maybe ever. There are some statistics and details to support those accolades.
He’s also among the reasons there are high expectations for the Eagles this fall.
Wilson’s achievements include leading the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in tackles during the 2019 season with 124, more than half of them solos and 13 of them for minus 57 yards. He racked up double figures in tackles in six of the 11 games, including 20, 13 of them unassisted, during the 53-48 win over South Dakota Mines
“He’s definitely one of the best linebackers we’ve had since I played (1996-99) or coached here (since 2012),” said CSC Head Coach Jay Long. “He’s always in the mix. He’s got high football intelligence and gives relentless effort, to go with his athletic ability. I also can’t say enough about his team leadership. He’s a great all-around player. He should get some all-star honors this year.”
Wilson comes from a football family. His father, Thomas, has been a California high school football coach for years, and was the head coach at Sunnyside High School in Fresno when Travis was a senior in 2015. The school is large with about 800 students in his class.
His older brother, Tommy, played quarterback for Northern Montana at Havre and is now a CSC graduate assistant helping coach the Eagles’ tight ends.
While Travis says he always preferred playing defense, he also saw considerable action on offense, both at quarterback and running back in high school. One of his highlights as a senior was throwing for a touchdown, running for a TD and also catching a pass for a TD in one game during Sunnyside’s 10-3 season.
Wilson earned all-conference honors at linebacker as both a high school junior and senior, received some all-state recognition his senior year, also was a starter on the basketball team and qualified for the state track meet in the 300 hurdles his senior year.
Following graduation, he played football the next year at Fresno City College, didn’t find that too exciting and decided to expand his horizons.
“I wanted something different, to go someplace where I could play football and also graduate,” he recalls. “I sent e-mails to quite a few schools, didn’t get much response, but was happy when Chadron State contacted me. That’s how I got here.”
The contact was made by Dylan Furrier, who had just concluded his career as a linebacker for the Eagles and was on the CSC coaching staff as graduate assistant. One of his assignments was to check out players from California who had contacted CSC.
Furrier, now the Eagles’ special team’s coordinator, recalls their exchanges. Furrier liked the tone of their conversations, felt Wilson was a quality player and person and was serious about getting a degree.
Wilson arrived in January 2017, took part in spring practice but didn’t make his debut with the Eagles until the following year, 2018. He’s been excelling ever since.
The Eagles’ defensive leaders included veteran linebackers Keenan Johnson and Tyler Lewis. They remained healthy and were on the field nearly fulltime. Johnson led the team in tackles for the third straight year with 103 and Lewis had 95.
Wilson chipped in with 48, including eight tackles for minus 45 yards that included six sacks and teamed with Lewis for a game-saving fumble recovery about a foot from the Eagles’ goal line with 10 seconds remaining against South Dakota Mines in Rapid City.
Lewis caused the fumble when he hit the Hardrockers’ pass receiver just shy of the goal line and Wilson claimed the ball for CSC to seal what became a 50-46 victory.
In 2019, Wilson was usually the busiest tackler. His numbers were spectacular. His 124 tackles were 23 more than any other RMAC player made.
Wilson, who received his bachelor’s degree and is now taking graduate courses, also has made his mark in the weight room. He added five pounds to the CSC squat record of 500 for linebackers that was set by All-American Kevin Homer in 1997 and also holds the “all-time total” weight lifting record for linebackers of 1,160 pounds that combines hang clean, back squat and bench press totals. The old mark was set by Luke Sittner in 2003.
But Wilson is more interested in talking about this year’s defense than he is about his past accomplishments. He thinks it will be improved and potent.
He sings the praises of his sidekicks at linebacker, seniors Noah Kerchal and Jeremiah Makahununiu, along with sophomore Joey Geil. He also says redshirt freshman Xavier Harrell and true freshman Saxon Wright will see action this fall and are on their way to having really bright futures.
He also points out that the defensive line is two-deep and is considerably bigger than the 2019 front. In addition, he speaks highly of the secondary, noting, “Everybody back there is experienced now and there’s a lot of them.”
Wilson points out that when a team has an abundance of good defensive backs, the special teams will be solid because they will include players who can run and are able to cover punts and kickoffs well.
“I think we’re going to have a great team, it should be one of the best Chadron State has had in a while,” he concluded.