Ross Travis retreated to his locker, slid a red dri-fit shirt over his head and shrugged.
This was Saturday, just moments after the Chiefs’ 17-16 preseason loss to the Seattle Seahawks, and Travis — who had just played in his first organized football game in nine years — was unmoved.
Yes, he’d just played 31 snaps, the most of any of the Chiefs’ offensive skill-position players. And yes, he’d just taken his first real game-speed hit.
But no, the latter was not a big deal for the 6-foot-7, 235-pound college basketball player-turned-tight end from Penn State, who has been flashing his ability throughout training camp: a nice combination of size, athleticism and natural ball skills.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah — it ain’t nothing,” said Travis, a confident guy who has consistently waved off concerns about taking his first hit. “Everybody was hyping it up a little bit, but it’s good. It wasn’t too bad, man.”
Travis took his first NFL hit on the third play of the first quarter, when he lined up in the slot, ran a precise slant route and caught a bullet over the middle from quarterback Alex Smith. Travis was tackled by all-pro Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman for an 11-yard gain.
“Sherman was kind of going for the legs — I just tried to lower my pads,” Travis said. “Wasn’t too bad.
“I knew somebody was going to be there. Just had to take that first one.”
Of course, that didn’t keep his teammates from giving him a hard time during the ensuing film session.
“Oh no, he was getting killed on it,” tight ends coach Tom Melvin said with a laugh. “But that’s good. That’s part of the locker room; that’s a great part of the sport, that camaraderie. Nobody’s exempt from that. But that builds a bond.”
Melvin’s part just happy Travis — who caught two passes for 12 yards — responded to the hit with indifference.
“He got his first catch and got whacked and got right back up,” Melvin said. “Whether it hurt or not didn’t matter. He didn’t rub any dirt on it and got back in the huddle.”
Which speaks to Melvin’s point: Travis appears to like football, which isn’t a given for former basketball players. Melvin recalled one hoops player he coached at Northern Arizona who decided to the join the football team … then quickly decided it wasn’t a great idea.
“Looked great in shorts,” Melvin said. “First time he got hit, said ‘Ah, it’s not for me.’ Not that he couldn’t do it, it’s just, ‘I don’t want to do it.’ This game isn’t for everybody.
“But Ross, his mentality is fine. He’s a, ‘Hit me and I’ll get right back’ (guy).”
Travis was not perfect. He dropped a wide-open pass from Aaron Murray in the third quarter that could have gone for a 32-yard touchdown — perhaps the moment got to him; drops for him have been rare in camp — and his blocking remains a work in progress.
“Right now he’d be a push-and-pester guy — I’m not going tell you he’s a removal guy at the end of the line of scrimmage,” co-offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. “That’s something that we’d like to have him do, have him play next to a tackle. I do believe he’s a hybrid type that can open up and split outside and create some mismatches out there.”
Still, Travis flashed above-average effort in this area throughout the game, a positive sign in his development.
“He did a pretty good job on the run game, which I didn’t think would necessarily be his strength,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I’m not telling you that he’s a blow-up run-blocker. I thought he handled himself well with it.
“With the exception of that one long ball that Murray threw, I think that he did a pretty good job in there on the rest of the stuff we asked him to do.”
Since Travis’ arrival in Kansas City as a practice-squad player a year ago, he’s always carried himself like someone who belongs, whether teasing teammates about their broken jumpers — the Chiefs have a basketball rim in the locker room — or maintaining a quiet confidence about his ability.
That didn’t change on Saturday, even in those often-nervous moments before the game.
“Nah man — I threw my headphones on before the game and took my mind off it,” Travis said. “I felt prepared.”
Most importantly for the Chiefs, he’s enjoying his new sport.
“Yeah man, fun day,” Travis said. “Love it, man. It’s cool.”