Traylon Shead arrived at Texas back in 2010 with great expectations already attached to him as one of the most highly touted recruits in the country.
But Shead never really got his career going with the Longhorns. After two seasons, he decided to transfer. His stat line when he left? Empty.
Shead landed at Navarro Junior College and vowed to himself that he would prove all his doubters wrong when he got his next shot in Division I.
Now here he is, with his next shot.
Shead arrived at SMU in January with great expectations, deja vu for a player already used to the pressure. With Zach Line gone, all eyes have turned to Shead as the next great running back for the Ponies. He has spent the spring learning the system and preparing himself for his moment in the spotlight come August.
"Because I have high expectations here, the biggest transition is to come in and try to have a big impact because, to live up to those expectations," Shead said in a recent phone interview. "That means I have to work a lot harder, study the playbook and be a good student.
"Being compared to Zach, it’s an honor. But also there’s a lot of pressure. If you don’t live up to it, you have a lot of criticism. In the back of my mind, this is my last go around in D-I and I really need to buckle down and prove all those doubters wrong and prove to everybody who gave me a chance that they gave the opportunity to the right person."
The comparisons between Line and Shead are easy to make. Both are bigger backs with deceptive speed. (Line is 6-foot-1, 230 pounds; Shead is 6-2, 225 pounds). Both excel at catching passes out of the backfield. Both are also good blockers. Shead, however, comes into SMU with much bigger expectations. Line was recruited to SMU as a linebacker. Shead was a Parade All-American.
Things just did not work out for him at Texas. When asked for his reasons behind transferring, Shead mentioned wanting to be closer to his daughter, Aniya, who turns 2 next month. Dallas is much closer to his hometown of Cayuga, Texas, than Austin. Shead saw that Line was about to end his SMU career so he had it in his mind that he wanted to play for the Mustangs after spending a year in junior college.
What a year it was. Shead ran for 1,194 yards and 17 touchdowns for Navarro in 2012. He signed with SMU in December and has been taking first-team reps for the past several weeks of spring practice, alternating with Prescott Line -- Zach's brother. Aniya and her mom -- Shead's girlfriend -- stay with Shead in Dallas for a majority of the week.
When asked for how he looks back on what happened at Texas, Shead said, "I take it as a learning experience but I appreciate the coaches for giving me the opportunity to come there and to leave in such a good way. Just not being able to play much there, I have a lot of doubters here and there. That’s my mentality since I was at Navarro, to get back to D-I and I appreciate SMU for giving me the opportunity. Now that I’m here, it’s time to prove those doubters wrong and prove I can play at D-I even though I came from a small school in East Texas. That and going home and seeing my daughter, are the two biggest factors that motivate me."
Shead says he feels as if he has picked up the offense well this spring, but has plenty more work to do in the offseason. He wants to work on his pad level, stamina and footwork, all while trying to pattern his game after Falcons running back Steven Jackson.
"Seeing how big of an impact he had in college and in the NFL -- that’s what I’m trying to work toward," Shead said. "He has speed and power, and he’s also a big back. We’re similar in size so that’s what I’m trying to get my game level to."