By Rob Ludwig
Corsicana Daily Sun
Traylon Shead took a quick pitch and headed right behind a wall of oversized blockers. As he neared the sideline and was prepared to cut upfield, the 6-2, 225-pound Shead found himself one-on-one with a defensive back that obviously was thinking more about machismo than this own safety.
The resulting crash, sort of like a dual cab Ford F-150 colliding with a Ford Echo, had the expected outcome. The defensive player laid sprawled, one leg tucked under the other and his helmet eschew enough to obscure any hopes of peripheral vision as he waited for the training staff.
And Shead? The human speed bump slowed him just enough that he was limited to only a 27-yard gain.
The howl that went out from Shead after the play was indicative of more than his running over a teammate in a preseason scrimmage.
It was pent up emotions for years of doubt — not by him, but from everyone from Division I coaches to college fan site trolls to occasionally a teammate who has little regard for the power and skill of one of the greatest running backs in Texas high school history.
“Oh, I remember that play,” Shead said of the seemingly benign running play called eight weeks earlier in a Navarro College scrimmage. “The yell? Well, I’m an emotional guy sometimes and when someone doubts me like he did, I let loose physically and vocally.”
That has how life has been for the Cayuga native the last seven years. Seemingly everyone questions Shead’s ability to be a Division I running back.
He played at a high school where the level of competition was subpar, they said.
He was too slow to play running back at the Division I level, they mused.
He was just a small-town kid who couldn’t handle the big-time atmosphere, they pondered.
Shead has heard it all. And, frankly he’s had enough of the doubters.
“I’ve heard them, but I choose not to react, except when I’m on the football field,” he said. “That’s all I can really do.”
Shead has certainly silenced a few more of those doubters this season at Navarro. When the No. 5 Bulldogs take on Georgia Military on Saturday in the Heart of Texas Bowl (11 a.m. kickoff; KAND-1340), he’ll be carrying with him impressive numbers in his lone season at Navarro.
Shead leads the Southwest Junior College Football Conference in rushing with 1,142 yards, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. His 17 touchdowns and 102 points are also tops in the league and earned him first-team all-conference honors. He committed to Southern Methodist University earlier this month.
“I wish we had a whole team of Traylon Sheads,” Navarro Coach Brian Mayper said. “He’s not only a great football player, but he’s also a great young man in and out of the classroom. He’s the model player you’d like to have in your program and on the field every Saturday.”
Shead hails from Class 1A Cayuga where he finished with 10,291 yards rushing and a then-state best 146 career touchdowns, leading his team to state championships in football and basketball as a senior. Then he was off to the University of Texas, where he took a redshirt year and then played sparingly on special teams and as an H-back in 2011, He never received a carry in his time at Texas.
With heralded backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron already on the roster and Aledo’s Johnathan Gray on the way this fall, Shead thought it was time to seek a backfield at a new university.
But not before endearing himself to the Texas faithful with a heartfelt statement released through the UT athletic department.
In the statement, Shead said: “This was a great experience for me. I just know that sometimes things don’t work out, and I think it’s in my best interest to get a fresh start. I just want to thank everyone who has anything to do with the program for supporting me over the past few years.”
He meant every word, Shead says almost a year later.
“It just didn’t work out. I wasn’t mad at anyone, just disappointed,” he said. “It’s a great university and I learned a lot from the experience.”
Shead seriously considered transferring to Colorado until Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy explained the NCAA transfer rule and that he would have to sit out yet another season.
“I just couldn’t deal with that again,” he said. ‘About that time Coach (Nick) Bobeck called. I went home, took some time with my dad thinking over my options and decided Navarro was the best place for me. I’ve got no regrets over that decision.”
Neither does Navarro. Shead has been the starter at running back from the first day he stepped on campus. Mayper found Shead waiting when he took over the head coaching duties from Bobeck last January and he instantly saw huge rushing numbers were possible with Shead and several other talented players in the running back stable.
Shead has not disappointed. He has run over, through and around defenders consistently throughout the season, rushing for more than 100 yards eight times.
Perhaps his best game came on the most miserable night of the season. With Navarro trailing 10-0 and forced to play the fourth quarter driving directly into a fierce rainstorm, Shead was spectacular. His 80-yard dash around the left side and through the middle of the Trinity Valley secondary was his second touchdown of the quarter and left the Cardinal faithful stunned. Shead finished with 180 yards as Navarro rallied for a 21-10 victory.
“A lot of people don’t believe Traylon is fast, but I don’t think that’s right,” Mayper said. “I guess it’s his long legs that create such long strides that make it look like he’s not running fast. All I see is him pulling away from defensive backs on the way to the end zone.”
Regardless of what Shead does on Saturday against one of the nation’s stingiest defenses, he’s left an indelible mark on the Navarro program and has answered his many critics through his actions on the field.
“Texas was a great experience for me and it just didn’t work out, but I’ve had the opportunity to come to Navarro and get back to what I love doing and that’s running hard with the football,” Shead said. “This has been a great experience for me because it’s allowed me to grow as a person, as a student and as a football player. I think people out there now understand that I can play at the highest level. They’ll get to see that again the next two years when I leave Navarro.
“Yes, I’m always having to prove myself. But it’s never shaken my confidence in my abilities. Great parents have taught me that in life we always have to prove ourselves to others. I (relish) that opportunity every chance I get.”