Each Memorial Day weekend, Travis Shelton engages in a footrace with his cousin Devin Hester, the Chicago Bears rookie kick returner, at their annual family reunion.
Two years ago Hester took home the top honors, but last summer Shelton edged out the former Miami Hurricanes standout. So, who’s faster?
“Me,” Shelton boasted after the Owls topped Bowling Green Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
“I got him. I got him beat.” Trivial matters aside, Shelton’s speed has jolted the Owls. The red-shirt sophomore has totaled 811 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns since returning to the field against Clemson three games ago.
Shelton sat out the team’s first six games due to disciplinary reasons.
Standing on the sideline taught him the team aspect of the game, but he said it only made him anxious for live action.
“I was so hungry when I came out there,” Shelton said. “I was too excited. I almost was too tired in the Clemson game in the warm-ups because I was so excited. It felt great to be back out there.”
Since then, he’s taken a pencil and eraser to the program’s record books. Shelton’s 205 return yards in his season debut against Clemson Oct. 12 established a new school record. Against Northern Illinois, he wielded 204 receiving yards, the second-most ever by an Owl. He also totaled 311 all-purpose yards and caught two touchdown passes that game.
Then, Shelton tied the program’s Division
I-A record with a 96-yard kick return against Bowling Green Saturday.
Offensive coordinator George DeLeone said the 5-11, 185-pound Shelton adds another dimension to the Owls’ attack.
“Some of those plays he made and the things he does for our offense makes people defend a whole different variety of problems,” DeLeone said, “and I think that’s helped us.”
The Owls have scored eight touchdowns since Shelton returned. They found the end zone only five times before. Shelton’s speed stretches opposing defenses and allows the Owls to run some quirky Adam DiMichele tossed a 43-yard touchdown pass to Shelton on a flea flicker.
It marked the third time in two quarters DiMichele hooked up with Shelton for a touchdown.
“Travis was just sitting there and that was a thing of magic,” DiMichele said. “We’ve been working on that for five weeks.”
After Bowling Green closed the gap to 21-14 in the fourth quarter, Shelton scooped up a squib kick at the four-yard line. He then dashed to his left, got a few blocks and bolted up the sideline for his school-record 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
“On the prior kick return I had seen that they had tried to kick it and keep me in the corner,” Shelton said. “I had seen everybody was crashing down and they were not staying in their lanes. So I had already predetermined in my mind that I was going to go [to my left],” he said.
Even when he doesn’t touch the ball, Shelton creates havoc. In the third quarter, he and Bruce Francis lined up aside each other, both set to run post patterns. The two defensive backs broke with Shelton, leaving Francis open for a 45-yard touchdown pass. Shelton’s clutch performances have spurned DiMichele to search for a nickname.
“He’s ‘Big Play Travis,'” DiMichele said.
“I don’t know what to call him. He just makes plays and it’s very exciting.”
John Kopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.