Travon Van has a unique way of dealing with the daily grind of hard football workouts in brutal heat.
“I try to think of my mom, because she’s back home sick,” said the speedy running back, who transferred from Marshall to Montana last winter.
“I know how much pain she’s in. I’ll be thinking like I’m in pain. But I’m doing something I love. She has dialysis. Only 14 percent of her kidneys work so she’s in and out of the hospital. They’re trying to figure through that.”
Jeanitte Van lives in San Diego, where Travon spent a lot of his summer. Unlike most of his teammates who built camaraderie in Missoula in June and July, Travon had to be home to help take care of his mother.
Aside from a knee issue the junior views as a temporary setback, Travon wants Jeanitte to know he’s doing great with his new Grizzly brethren. Yet he still thinks of Mom often.
Amiable No. 8 could prove to be quite the find for Montana. He’s a gifted athlete who has learned from his mother how to handle adversity.
Travon’s quickness and strength are so exceptional Florida offered him a scholarship out of high school. He landed at FBS Marshall, in part because he was bent on playing the running back position.
He rushed for 551 yards in 2011. Then he bounced back from two surgeries – including one to repair a torn labrum in his hip – to earn a starting job for the first three games in 2012.
Marshall decided to move Van to cornerback and that signaled the beginning of the end of his time with the Herd. Ever since he was little, the 5-foot-11, 195-pounder has had the goal to play offense. He wasn’t going to settle for anything different.
So he fell off the FBS radar for the remainder of the 2012 season, searching for a new home. His older brother, Jason, suggested he call Griz running backs coach Justin Green. Jason and Justin were rival backs in high school and played together at San Diego State.
Van became a Grizzly and he’s happy to be in Missoula. Last Sunday he made two plays in a scrimmage that remain vivid in my mind:
The first involved reaching back to snare a sharp pass from Jordan Johnson on a short route. The second involved busting a run outside when the middle was clogged, netting Montana’s first unofficial TD on a 7-yard burst.
His quick acceleration is unique. His positive attitude is just as impressive.
“I like the way both sides of the ball are playing,” he said of Griz preseason workouts. “It’s like a scary-good feeling.”
Travon will tell you unabashedly his nickname is Juice. Ask him why he’d ever want it considering The Juice, O.J. Simpson, is such an infamous character in sports history. Travon responds with a smile.
“When I was little my coach used to make us get water breaks and I used to always come back with juice on my jersey,” the junior said. “I always had red stains on my jersey.”
Van is one of the many Griz with an energy about him that’s contagious. In 13 days he and his team will host Appalachian State in a matchup of the two most popular FCS programs.
Travon can hardly wait.
“They keep telling me, ‘You’ll see,’ ” he said of his teammates and their Aug. 31 opener under the lights. “I tell them don’t tell me because I want to be surprised when I run out of the tunnel.
“They get maybe 30,000 (fans) on a good day at Marshall. But the stadium is kind of spread out. This one is kind of compact so I’m anxious to see how it is.”
There’s no telling what Travon might do that night. One way or another, I predict he’s going to make Mom smile.