By ROBERT STEWART
TURNING IT UP
Tiger Rag Editor
Travin Dural is a quiet person.
He’s soft spoken, difficult to hear in an interview unless you’re right next to him. His default face — a person’s facial expression when they’re not thinking about it — is unassuming. His personality is relaxed and calm, at least on the outside.
But on the inside is a football player with a burgeoning confidence, buoyed by the fact that he carries the most experience among LSU’s youthful wide receiving corps.
That, and one spectacular game-winning catch against Arkansas in 2013 that etched his name into LSU lore.
But one great reception isn’t enough — especially since LSU lost 71.9 percent of its receiving yards from a season ago when Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. bolted for the NFL.
Dural understands he’s going to have to further put his stamp on the LSU program if the Tigers want to throw the ball successfully this year. He knows what his role has to be this season — the veteran, the leader, the unquestioned go-to guy.
For that to happen, he and his coaches agree that he’ll have to become a little louder in order to be heard on and off the field.
"Last year, I wasn’t too confident in myself. I just didn’t know what I can do,” Dural said. "I’m a lot more confident, and I have to be. I have to be the leader considering the circumstances, with everybody being so young and me being the most experienced.”
Just like that game-winner against Arkansas, Dural sprinted out of nowhere to become a big name for LSU.
Dural hails from the small city of Breaux Bridge, where he was a consensus four-star prospect but only a top-40 receiver nationally at best. He only hauled in 42 catches for 902 yards as a senior in 2011 — impressive numbers, but not the eye-popping kind of stats scouts drools over. He always flashed speed, sprinting his way to the 200-meter dash title at the 4A state championship meet in 2011.
Dural committed to LSU, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury during preseason practice in 2012. He redshirted — a move that can help a player gain valuable experience but can put them out of public consciousness while not playing.
Just like every other LSU receiver in 2013, he was buried on the depth chart behind Beckham and Landry.
There were flashes, though. Toward the end of the first half against Alabama, Dural hauled in a 6-yard touchdown pass that brought LSU within a 17-14 deficit. He also reeled in a 36-yard catch against Kent State and a 21-yard reception versus Mississippi State.
But let’s face it — not many people knew his name until that fateful November afternoon against Arkansas.
LSU was attempting to march 99 yards down the field with a true freshman, Anthony Jennings, at quarterback, while trailing 27-24 late in the fourth quarter.
Thanks to a 21-yard scramble, Jennings drove the Tigers all the way to the Razorback 49-yard line with 1:22 left. It was third down, which meant Jarvis Landry, who was targeted on an incredible 35 third downs last season, was the likely destination for the pass.
Knowing the Arkansas defense would focus on him, Landry turned to the LSU coaches and pleaded his case to be used as a decoy, allowing Dural — who was subbing for an injured Beckham — to run into the end zone untouched.
The coaches listened. Landry, in the slot, ran an out route to the left, while Dural sprinted downfield.
The safety bit on Landry’s decoy, and Dural easily hauled in Jennings’ 49-yard bomb and glided in for the game-winning score with hardly a Razorback around him.
After becoming a household name in LSU fans’ minds, Dural’s confidence could only grow.
"As the spring went on, I started to make more plays,” Dural said. "They started to target me a little bit more. The spring game I made a couple plays. As the year went by, as my skill set grew I just gained more confidence.”
Dural indeed flourished in LSU’s spring game, looking like a self-assured No. 1 receiver with five catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
Now Dural has to build on that confidence, said Adam Henry, LSU’s wide receivers coach.
"It’s not good enough just to go out there one game or one practice and do well,” Henry said. "You have to stack them up. It’s one play, one practice at a time.”
Dural has taken those steps so far, Henry said. He’s got the natural talent — the ability to run all day, the ability to leap out of a gym, the long arms to grab a ball where a defender can’t.
But Dural is becoming more vocal on the practice field, and instead of just leading by example, he’s letting guys know when they screw up.
"He’s taken great steps in his maturation process,” Henry said. "We’re looking forward to him just to be consistent each and every day. He’s been working hard and doing all the things that we ask him to do.”
It’s LSU’s Media Day, and cameras are buzzing around LSU’s highly touted freshmen.
Granted, it’s the only opportunity reporters will have this year to talk to said freshmen, given that LSU policy prevents the youngsters from being interviewed. But the cameras swarmed those players nonetheless, including heralded receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn.
Dural got plenty of attention on his own — but not quite as much as those youthful wideouts.
Dural is in an odd situation, given his veteran status. Even though he’s easily the most experienced receiver coming back in 2014, and is frequently mentioned as a potential No. 1 receiver, fans don’t quite drool over him like they do those freshmen. Dural even has admitted the young wideouts are more advanced as freshmen than he was when he first came in.
But none of that matters to Dural.
"I’m just trying to help those guys grow, help them really learn the offense,” he said. "We’re going to need everybody this year as an offense. As receivers, we’re not just going to look on two guys. We’re going to everybody.”
Dural has a point. As the potential top target, he is looking at the possibility of double teams on most plays. If those young bucks don’t step up in one-on-one situations, LSU’s chances at a viable passing attack will be shut down.
If anything, Dural has already taken the young guns under his wing.
"That’s one guy that ever since I came in, he’s supported me and been a positive leader to me the whole time, and I appreciate everything he’s done for me,” Dupre said of Dural. "He’s a great player.”
Dupre may be the most exciting wide receiver prospect LSU has ever had. With quick agility and leaping ability like a kangaroo, Dupre could be a stud for a long time to come.
But Dupre is quick to tout Dural’s skills, saying his speed and leaping ability, along with a knack for learning the offense quickly, will help him shine for the Tigers.
"I’ve worked with a lot of great receivers. I’ve worked with a lot of NFL receivers,” Dupre said. "I think he (Dural) is a guy that can reach that level one day for sure.”
These young wide receivers complimenting each other so often is a sign that they’re gelling quickly, developing a chemistry that will be invaluable on the field — or that they at least know the right things to say.
It’s no surprise to Henry, who calls his group of receivers a "band of brothers.”
"We all root for each other. (Dural) helps everybody that’s in the room,” Henry said. "You have to have thick skin in our room. We help each other, and we go as a group. The group is close, they’re close knit. They help each other out. For him, he doesn’t even worry about that.”
It’s appropriate to name a wide receiver corps a band of brothers. They have to be on the same page so they don’t run wrong routes on the field.
The chemistry has to be there, or else the timing in a complex offense like Cam Cameron’s will fail.
Every band of brothers has a leader. Even if that group is young, there’s always one soldier who steps up to lead the rest, whether vocally or by example.
If LSU’s coaches have their way, Dural will fit both bills this season — so long as he speaks up a little more.
"I’d say if the coaches put it in my hands, and they say, ‘We’re going to throw you the ball a bunch,’ then I’m ready to make those plays,” Dural said.