UNIVERSITY PARK — Traylon Shead admits when he committed to Texas in 2009 he envisioned himself finishing his collegiate career as a Longhorn. He certainly never thought he’d be at SMU as a junior, but the Cayuga product isn’t complaining.
Shead redshirted as a true freshman at UT in 2010 and after playing four games as a sophomore, saw that carries were going to be hard to come by, so the 6-foot-2, 230-pound tailback transferred. In 2012 at Navarro College, he rushed for 1,194 yards and 17 touchdowns.
And while some players might lament playing a year in junior college, he embraced the opportunity for what it was, a chance to show that he was still a big-time back at the collegiate level.
“That was a big confidence booster. When you don’t touch the field for two, two and a half years, it really does something to your confidence,” Shead said. “That’s what I was lacking and once I got to Navarro and started playing, my confidence built back up from how it was in high school. That’s the mentality I came to SMU with — just have confidence in yourself and do what you can do.”
With the Mustangs, he is expected to be the starting tailback, big shoes to fill considering he will be following Zach Line, SMU’s featured back for the past four seasons who finished as the No. 2 rusher in school history.
“I look at Zach’s film all the time,” Shead said. “What he did was he was physical. He ran in open space and he made people miss. I try to mold myself after that, but I try to bring something extra to the table.”
And that something extra he speaks of is something not in Line’s skill set, speed.
“He’s fast. He’s big and he can run,” Mustangs head coach June Jones said of Shead. “Looks to me like he’s a big-time running back for us, he’s kind of the size we’re looking for. He can hold up blocking. He catches the ball. He’s pretty instinctive running. I’m anxious to see him play.”
Shead, a graduate of Cayuga High School, feels he brings another quality that every coach loves to the Ponies, something that will help endear him to Jones, his teammates and SMU fans rather quickly.
“I can say that I’m versatile. Some guys look at me and say I’m a power back, but I can split out wide, run routes and catch the ball,” he said. “But I think in the open field, I bring a physical asset to the team to set the tempo.”
And even though he has yet to play a single down for the Mustangs, he has clearly already made quite an impression on his new head coach.
“He’s a little quicker. He really has great vision and he quickly makes decisions in creases,” Jones said. “The great ones have that kind of something that others don’t.”
SMU opens the 2013 season on Aug. 30 against Texas Tech.
Steve Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco.