WHEELING - Roger Waialae isn't trying to fool anyone. He knows exactly how his West Liberty football program landed the talents of Ryan Travis four years ago.
And as irony would have it, Travis will in all probability be picking up an NFL paycheck for the foreseeable future. An undrafted free agent, Travis (6-foot-3, 235 pounds), is listed as the No. 2 fullback on the Seattle Seahawks' depth chart., despite starring as a tight end with the Hilltoppers.
''He's worked hard, and the only reason we got him is we recruited him as a running back,'' Waialae said. ''He had to be patient.
''A lot of times when you move kids around, they really don't excel.''
Travis, who was understandably busy preparing for the start of the upcoming season and could not be reached for comment, bucked that trend in a big way.
A consensus first-team NCAA Division II All-America in 2009 and 2010, Travis was the only college football player in the country to catch at least 10 passes in every game during the 2010 season. He led the nation with 126 catches for 1,402 yards despite playing a 10-game schedule.
Travis' 126 catches and 12.6 average per game each rank No. 2 all-time on the NCAA Division II single-season receiving list, while his 15 TD catches tied the NCAA Division II single-season record for tight ends.
''We never had a guy with his size and ability to do things he did,'' Waialae said. ''We've had kids who could catch the ball, but being 6-3 .. and he played for us at 238 (pounds).
''His pro day he was up to 252, 255 and being able to run 4.59 and 4.61, and those clocks are slow.''
Travis' numbers really pop off the page, but Waialae said the Seahawks weren't one of the NFL teams that he could recall noticing.
''I don't think we saw a scout from Seattle on campus.''
The coach said Travis really got noticed when he played in the 2011 Cactus Bowl where he hauled in four passes for 60 yards, and had a 30-yard catch nullified by a penalty.
''He got on the radar after his junior year. Really it was his ball skills for a man his size were kind of unheard of,'' Waialae said. ''Even when he went to the all-star game, he made catches that really put him on the radar.
''I was talking to him a little and getting a feel for what the scouts said, and it was really the practices and the all-star game.''
Perhaps the most impressive fact about Travis, is he never missed a rep in practice during his college career. There were days he was injured enough to watch from the sideline, but declined the option given to him.
''He practiced every practice because he knew we didn't have a backup,'' Waialae said. ''He was a man among boys.
''That shows his ability and he worked out and stayed in shape and didn't take any shortcuts. It showed he was on another level to play as hard as he does and not get hurt.''
20th Anniversary Team
The Wheeling Nailers kick off their 20th Anniversary season Thursday, Oct. 6 at WesBanco Arena against the Cincinnati Cyclones. Coach Stan Drulia's team is coming off a spectacular run where it advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals before being eliminated in six games by Kalamazoo.
To commemorate the occasion, I will be putting together an all-time Nailers team in conjunction with the franchise's front office, and am looking for your input. I'll be taking your nominations for the squad until Sept. 15, and you can send those to the email address at the bottom of this column.
A Great Passes
We were sad to learn of the recent death of former Pine Grove High School standout Norman ''Wildman'' Wiley, who in recent years called Middletown, Del., home.
He went on to to become a three-time NFL All-Pro with the Philadelphia Eagles, with whom he played from 1950-58. After his playing career he went on to teach Physical Education and Driver's Education for 30 years at Pennsville High in Pennsville, N.J.
Memorial contributions can be made to the Valley High School Athletic Facility.
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net