Spring ball is just around the corner after a mass exodus of seniors, so it’s fair to admit Washington fans are getting restless to see the next wave of Dawgs. But for as stoked as everyone is to see the future in action next week, sometimes you want to hear from someone older, wiser, and who, in this case, also happened to terrorize opposing offenses during his breakout senior season in 2015 — which just happened to be the year where those paying attention went, “Oh crap... Is Washington about to get really good again?” (Narrator: They were.)
With that in mind, I talked to Travis Feeney who, after playing with the Steelers and Saints in the NFL, is currently starting in San Diego with the AAF while playing his first football after an injury in the NFL two years ago. We talked his pro experience, the transition between coaching staffs, and how he’d recruit elite pass rushers to Washington. Also, when it’s socially acceptable to celebrate more than usual.
UW Dawg Pound: When you were drafted and went to Pittsburgh, what was your experience there?
Travis Feeney: My experience in Pittsburgh, it was amazing, it was great. Ya know, drafted in the sixth round. Uh, the draft process sucked, just waiting for the draft, but other than that the city was great, met a lot of great teammates. A lot of teammates that I still talk to today. And then just like, I have a mentor from out there, Arthur Moats, he’s one of my old teammates; he’s my mentor now. Kinda using him time to time, talk to him see how he’s doing and pick his brain sometimes when I can.
Other than that, I mean, that was a great experience out there for 12 weeks on the practice squad there and then after that got called up by the Saints to the active roster and I was active roster for the rest of the season for four games there with the Saints and that was a great locker room there. Great guys I still talk to today there too, like Mark Ingram and Cameron Jordan. Those guys are pretty cool dudes. Other than that, played there for a second, was at OTAs, got hurt and got released. Been trying to get back in the league and was out for a second, had a shoulder surgery and was recovering for a year. Not having ball kinda sucked but then after that this opportunity came up with the AAF, so I took full advantage of it, got on the team, went through camp, did really well, uh, became a starter, and still going today right now.
UWDP: Yeah dude that’s awesome.
TF: Yeah so it’s been fun. Missing the league, it’s a new opportunity for guys who’ve been out of the game for a second or guys who’ve been hurt like me trying to show that they can still play and just trying to get film.
UWDP: Obviously everyone has their goals and their plans but things obviously don’t go exactly as you want them, but is it still something in your mind where, ya know, if you — to be blunt — totally kick ass in the AAF, is the NFL still something that you’re going for if you can get back up there?
TF: Oh yeah, yeah for sure, for sure the goal is always to get back in the NFL. I mean, definitely since that came into play. But I mean definitely with this I’m hoping to just ball out and then get back in the league.
UWDP: Absolutely. And then also I was wondering, ‘cause you hear a lot of people talk about, once they’re in the pros and stuff, kinda the things they didn’t realize they had learned from college... Were there any things that UW and Coach Pete or maybe Sark prepared you for that maybe you didn’t realize they had prepared you for, or maybe took it for granted until getting into the pros?
TF: I think it was more so maybe, taking everything serious — like, college I took serious, but, not as serious as I do now. Preparation and, ya know, just as far as knowing the game, actually knowing what to do, and as far as preparing that this is a business kinda deal. Like, this isn’t just for fun, you gotta realize at the end of the day this is a job, you gotta put everything that you can in it. I mean, they, both of them prepared me pretty well, as you guys see, Pete’s doing great at UW right now and those guys are coming up the league and they’re doing great. Great guys, Budda, Kevin King, Sid. All those kinda guys are doing great.
UWDP: For sure man, that defense.
TF: Yeah I mean they’re doing good.
UWDP: Yeah. Which actually kinda brings me to, a colleague of mine shot me over a question to ask you that he wanted to hear your impressions of maybe what has changed in the program since you graduated, if there’s any thoughts that you have.
TF: Well for one, uh, a lot more wins! More than I had. But I mean, those guys are really just, they really like the game, I don’t think anything’s changed as far as the family, and the part that when I’ve come back and gone to the locker room, those guys, those young Dawgs are still just as close as we were when I was in there.
Other than the locker room changing and some of the coaching staff changing, I don’t think much of it has changed; I think the mindset’s still the same as it’s always been when Pete came in and I think now it’s just more influential. Or now, he has more years in his system, and what he wants to do and how he’s preparing these guys for life, not just football, but life after ball. I mean these guys are doing internships everywhere, kids are travelling, studying abroad. I mean, they’re doing a lot more things than when I was there. All these job opportunities I see them during the offseason and stuff that these guys are doing and these interactions that they’re having with these business and stuff, so that they’ve prepared themselves to have jobs afterwards if ball doesn’t work out.
UWDP: For sure.
TF: And that’s just the biggest thing I think, is really having it at UW, at the school with the football team and the guys and the Dawgs, I think they’re just really prepared for life afterwards. So they’re able to play really well now, because they’re not as stressed about the second chapter in their life. They already feel prepared for it so now they can just play.
UWDP: So, speaking of that, about the Built For Life things — I know a lot of fans up here sometimes get weirdly myopic I guess about Built For Life and stuff — but what was your experience like, ‘cause you came in with Sark and then Pete came in, what was your experience like transitioning from those coaching staffs?
TF: I mean, Sark was great. Sark was about ball and everything was good. I think Pete was just more, “Yes I’m about ball but you guys,” like I said, “you guys need to, say, not necessarily have a Plan B, but be ready for a Plan B,” I think is a better way to say it.
I think a lot of people get it, it’s true when they say have a Plan B, but it’s just to be prepared in case you have to do a Plan B. And that’s the one thing that he put in our mind that I don’t think was as enforced under Sark or, if I say the difference between the two, I think that was just more so put out there for us and that we didn’t — like, for me it was kinda a shock, like “Whoah, I hadn’t really thought like this before.” And ya know, I should’ve — it’s good that I was able to get the last two years with him.
UWDP: Do you think there was kind of a shock — or do you think, for a lot of recruits and players in general, you guys almost always have been so good for so long, that do you think for some people that the thought of needing to have a Plan B almost seems like something they don’t have to worry about?
TF: Yeah, I mean definitely as young kids, a young person coming straight out of high school and you’re going into college and you’ve got a scholarship and all this, all you think about is that you’re gonna play ball. You don’t think about that you’re gonna be out, you don’t think that you’re not gonna get drafted; you think you’re gonna get drafted, you think everything’s gonna go fine.
But like you said, like, nothing in your life or in this journey goes according to plan, but, what it is, is a matter of how do you respond to when adversity comes, how do you affect it. I mean I’ve been out of ball for two years before this AAF opportunity. And ya know, I was that person, like “Hey I’m gonna be in ball forever,” but I mean I’m so prepared for life afterwards and what I want to do, my interests, and all that, but definitely you lose yourself for a second when you don’t have ball. And that’s what I think some of these kids don’t think about today when they should. Just like me. You’re drafted thinking you’re gonna be in there forever, but it doesn’t work like that. You gotta still work, and people are coming in every day. They’re exchanging them in and out every year, and guys are in and out, coming up, drafted, and all that stuff. And you gotta know that this is a short chapter in your life, and it can be done at any time, injury, whatever it is. So I think these kids, sometimes, they get so locked into the game that they don’t care about school, they don’t care about all these other things, but they should. I think that’s the biggest thing that Pete has put in these guys’ heads — that they can’t just be all all ball.
UWDP: Yeah, I think that’s a really interesting — I like hearing you articulate that ‘cause, for those of us who didn’t go through that process, it seems a little bit foreign, and ya know, a little bit, someone picks a school and you’re like “Why them?!”
UWDP: Which, speaking of that, I kinda wanna pivot a little bit, but as far as recruiting, I think it’s kind of ironic that despite UW’s defense being really effective, it’s still kind of, especially up front in the pass rush, it’s kind of, for lack of better words, un-sexy —
UWDP: ‘Cause a lot of it is containment, collapsing the pocket, instead of just being like “Hey you edge rusher, go 0-60, charge at him, and if you overrun him, whatever.” So — because maybe that doesn’t appeal as much to some recruits, elite edge rushers or outside linebackers — what would you tell a recruit or maybe you when you were back in that position who’s being courted by other schools where maybe their gameplan seems a little more glamorous, what would you tell them to convince them that, if Washington were the right decision for them, how would you convince them of that?
TF: I mean, I would convince them, those young Dawgs and those young recruits with how I see myself during the recruiting years. I mean at the time when I was recruited to Washington we weren’t all that, but I mean we were coming up, but what I would tell guys is “What story do you wanna make?” Do you wanna make a story where players have already been there, done that, the team’s already great, or do you wanna go to a spot where, like you said, maybe the edge rush ain’t, it’s “un-sexy” right now, but, I’m saying, why can’t you be the person that makes the pass rush something special? Why can’t you be that guy, who, “Ya know what, I’mma take over, I’m gonna be the guy who’s gonna get 10 sacks, I’m gonna be the guy who’s gonna be getting all the forced fumbles and quarterback hits” and all that.
Why don’t you be the guy to change that? And if you think you can be the guy to change it, this is the school for you, this is the school for you to do that and seek that opportunity. I mean, to me, like, like you said with it being un-sexy as a recruit, I look at that as “This is an opportunity for me to come in and ball out.” If I know I’m the guy, if I know that I can do this, and I trust in my abilities, then I’m gonna go to Washington. I’m gonna go to the school, if they’re struggling at that position right now, that’s what I’m gonna go do. I’m gonna go there, I’m gonna take over, I’m gonna dominate it, and I’m gonna make a name for myself.
UWDP: For sure.
TF: ‘Cause I mean that’s just what you have to do. Like you said, like, we’ve had pass rushers in the past who’ve done great. I mean, even when I got moved there and I had to do it and fill in the shoes for Hau’oli. I mean that was freaking big shoes to fill. That’s what I’d tell them. Make your own story.
UWDP: And then last question from another co-writer of mine who just wants to know what was your favorite play or hit of your career at Washington?
TF: Ooh, my favorite play or hit of my career?
UWDP: Yeah, I’m sure there’s a crapload of them.
TF: I mean, it’s gotta be probably my first sack of my career. San Diego State, 2013, sack and then I over-celebrated for so long — it was a sack forced fumble — we got the fumble and probably ran it back in but I was too busy celebrating. That was my favorite play.
UWDP: I love it. That’s probably something at the time where people were like “What are you doing?” but ya know what, hey, first sack of your career you deserve it.
TF: Yeah, I made the play so I was good! We got the ball back, we were fine.
UWDP: Yeah, you knew he was on it.
TF: Yeah, I knew he was on it so I didn’t have to worry about it.
Travis was a delight to interview and I certainly hope a killer season with the San Diego Fleet can propel him back to the NFL. Maybe we’ll check back in again if/when that happens, but for the mean time — you know the drill — do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.