Leitko's Journey Back

It didn't take two minutes into the press conference on Monday for Charlie Weis to praise one of his players. Travis Leitko, a walk-on defensive lineman trying to earn back a scholarship with the Irish, was called "very noticeable" by the Notre Dame head coach in the team's first practice of fall camp.

"I heard that through the grape vine," Leitko said of Weis's comments. "It's definitely appreciated. But I'm here to do my best. It's nice to be noticed but it shouldn't change anything about my play. I need to stay focused on the fundamentals and keep at it."

Leitko is trying to be back on the team after some personal problems made him sit out his junior season in 2005. A stellar student coming out of high school, he ran into some obstacles once he entered into the engineering program at Notre Dame.

"It was a very demanding curriculum," Leitko said. "I pursued it as best I could and had problems with it. My sophomore year, I had some medical issues for learning problems and they came to light."

The issue was soon diagnosed.

"I was diagnosed with A.D.D. inattentive," Leitko said. "It's something that if I sit down and pursue something, I start to lose focus. The problem was that I coasted on my intelligence until college. Through high school, I was able to grasp things easy enough that I didn't have to sit down and go through it. With engineering, it's something you have to sit down and really stay with. That's when it arose, especially with the time constraints."

After settling through this and some family health problems, Leitko started to get an itch to play football again. He'd watch the Notre Dame football games at home on television and think to himself that he could contribute. Starting around the New Year, he put himself on a strict training regiment to get his body ready for the pounding. There were still a few issues to be resolved before he could rejoin the team.

"The University has to let you back," Weis said. "When they said they let him back, I said ok. I told him to take care of his summer school classes. He had two classes to take and get good grades. He got two A's. I then told him he could walk-on and give him an opportunity to let him earn a scholarship before school started."

"I decided I wanted to return to Notre Dame," Leitko said, who is now pursing a degree in history. "I wanted to finish what I started. Everything I've done since I've left has been geared towards that. I talked to Coach Weis and we talked about getting good grades and coming into camp. I was willing to do what it took to get back on the team. I'm looking forward to pursing a scholarship."

So far, that scholarship is looking realistic. Weis said on Tuesday that Leitko is well on his way towards achieving this goal. The senior said he's been playing wherever the coaches tell him, mostly inside. With Derrell Hand's foot injury, Leitko could be a welcome addition to the depth of defensive line.

For his sake, this time around might be better than his first three seasons at Notre Dame. After garnering second-team USA Today All-American honors as a high school senior, Leitko came to the Irish with high expectations. But he mostly toiled as a reserve defensive end and a member of the special teams. Leitko has accumulated 17 tackles and one sack in two years of playing time (he sat out his freshman season).

"I had a lot of mental blocks in believing in myself and getting the system down," Leitko said about his first three seasons. "Some things with Coach (Greg) Mattison, I disagreed with and that led to some confrontations. This time off helped me refocus and realize that I was in control of my own destiny and I was going to make the decision to play."

Leitko is a little bigger than a few years ago. Weis said he put on 15-20 pounds since the last time he's seen him. Leitko's weight is listed at 270 pounds on the roster but he said it was closer to 280. The put on weight, in addition to his athleticism, makes him valuable either inside or outside.

"I am a little slower than I use to be," Leitko said. "I think that's just me getting back into it. Another couple of weeks, I'll be back to form.

"I always felt that I was a little light playing. For my build and my style, I needed to put on some weight. It's worked out to my benefit. They haven't said yay or nay. So I'll just keep at it."

All things considered, Leitko is glad to be back on the field with his teammates.

"Camp is not about fun," Leitko said. "But you forget little things when you go home. When you get back, the camaraderie with the players and the day-to-day things, it really comes back to you. You really miss it."

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