Leitko Putting the Student in Student-Athlete

Sophomore defensive end Travis Leitko has always been an interesting guy. Known as one of the smartest players on the team, Leitko is chasing two dreams at Notre Dame—a football career, and a career with N.A.S.A. Leitko has had to juggle the demands of the Notre Dame aerospace engineering program and the demands of football—not something many would even try. Leitko says he loves life at Notre Dame—even though he really has none—and that he can't wait to kickoff his football career.

Travis Leitko has been a busy man since enrolling at Notre Dame in 2002. Leitko says the demands of both football and school has been difficult to handle. "It's been good," said Leitko. "It's been real hard juggling everything, the academics, the athletics, just finding the time. I feel I'm finally getting my hands on it and getting control over what's going on."

Leitko's aspirations as a student have made his job doubly difficult as he's enrolled in the school of engineering at Notre Dame, specializing in aerospace engineering. "There's no leniency, there's no give. You either perform or you get out. I've had tests every week since fall break. Every week I'm onto new things. It's hard, but it's what I want to do, and that's why I came here."

N.A.S.A. is where Leitko hopes to end up after football. He's had this dream from a very early age. "It's still my dream. I just can't see myself saying ‘it's too hard and I'll just lay back and focus on football.' It's something I really want to do with my life. Even if I do go pro, there's a very slim chance in college football, no matter how long I'm in there, I'm still going to do something with my degree. I just don't feel that just playing football is why I'm here. I want to do something with my degree in the business world."

"I can't be an astronaut," Leitko continued. "I'm too tall to be an astronaut. I knew from very early on that I was going to be too tall. I focus more on the research, the design areas, and the aspects of that. I think that's where I want to go from here. It's still open, there are a lot of possibilities, I'm only in my second year into it. We're just starting to get into the real aerospace engineering part."

One of the most difficult tradeoffs for Leitko is his major takes away from time spent with the team. "It's kind of hard because I have to separate myself from the guys around me and live with normal guys. It's hard to just say ‘I've got to go, I've got to study, I've got to sleep.' They're always doing something. There's always someone not working."

Leitko says he has been able to make that bond with the players on the team. He says he feels just like one of the guys out there. "I think camp helps with that, just getting to know the guys, and the summer. Summer is a lot lighter on the academics so I'm able to get out there and get to know them. I went out there and tried to get to know the guys because I know, down the road, we're going to be side-by-side out on the field, and I need to be able to trust them and they need to be able to trust me."

Leitko came to Notre Dame as a highly recruited player from The Woodlands, Texas. He was voted second-team USA Today prep All-American and that potential is starting to show on the field. "I'm really starting to enjoy it. Football is going real well. I'm getting a lot of playing time. I'm getting a lot of trust in the guys around me so it's going real well."

Leitko didn't play as a freshman and said he got lost at times when he first reported to Notre Dame. The Texas native says he understands the defense much better this year. "Just going into two-a-days, everything was more clear. That first year of just getting everything under your belt helps so much. I remember coming in my freshman year and just being lost the first couple of weeks. I'm familiar with the formations and the setups. You're able to work off that."

Leitko saw quite a bit of playing time against Navy and recorded two tackles in his 13:15 of playing time. "It was good to get out there. For people to hear your name, it's kind of special, especially in that stadium. It's what I'm here to do--I'm here to play and to perform."

The injury to starter Kyle Budinscak has put Leitko in a role of more playing time. "Coach Mattison has always been encouraging. It just hasn't been my time. We've had veterans that have stayed at their positions and are playing very well. It hasn't been open for me to perform. Now that some people are hurt, I'm getting more time to prove what I can do."

Leitko says he's confident he's going to make an impact here at Notre Dame. He knows his time will come and he'll make the most of it. "I feel I have the right work ethic. I'm not going to stop, I'm not going to quit, and I'm not going to let up. I just go 100 percent as long as I can. I might not be as athletic as some of these guys, but down the road, because I'm trying so hard, I'm going to get my time. I'll be starting by the end of it, I know that."

The future looks bright for Notre Dame along the defensive line. The Irish defensive line is packed with former high school All-Americans like Leitko, Derek Landri, Victor Abiamiri, and Trevor Laws, just waiting to spread their wings. Leitko believes this younger group of players has the right attitude to win a lot of games at Notre Dame.

"We're going to have young guys that get experience every day, and they get better every day. I think we'll have the mentality to just go out there and give it 100 percent. I really feel the younger guys that we have; they're willing to give it there all to make this program a winner."

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