After the 2006 season, then-sophomore Offensive Tackle David Traxler realized it was just not realistic for him to gain any more weight or maintain the 295-300 pounds he had already reached.
His body was just not responding any more to attempts to get bigger on his 6-6 frame.
So Traxler, now a rising senior, asked the coaching staff if he could go in a different direction - take off some weight and try tight end. They told him to give it a whirl.
In what seemed like no time, Trax was down to 265 pounds and looked like a prototypical SEC tight end.
The only problem was he had never played there before and was starting - essentially - from scratch with only two years in his collegiate career remaining.
Traxler made good strides last year, but he didn't get a lot of playing time because he was behind two veterans of the position - Robert Lane and Robert Hough, who were both seniors in 2007.
Now, as David approaches his final spring session with a new coaching staff, he's the lone returning tight end who has been at the position for at least a calendar year. (Cecil Frison also returns, but he shifted from the DL to TE a couple of times in the last two seasons).
Houston Nutt and his staff did sign JUCO Tight End Gerald Harris, an impressive 6-5, 255-pounder, but Harris has never practiced a day on this level.
"It feels good to be the old guy at the position," Traxler smiled. "I feel like I have been waiting a long time to take a position. Being at tight end is not what I would have predicted when I came in here as a freshman, but that's what it has evolved into and I'm liking it.
"I'm a senior and I intend to take the responsibility that comes with being a senior seriously. I will help the younger guys out just like the older guys helped me out when I was young. I just want to win - we've got to. This is my last year and I have never tasted a winning season. It's time to get that done. Whatever we've got to do, we've got to do it."
Traxler said it has not been difficult for him to take on a senior leadership role even though he's never really been a starter and he switched position midstream.
"I've been around as long as anyone, longer than most. I have proven myself enough to gain everyone's respect, I believe. I have competed with all the DL and LBs since I have been here," he continued. "I work hard and the younger guys see that. I'm not a big talker, but I feel everyone knows I am serious about football."
Traxler switched over to TE at the end of the 2006 season, going through a spring and a season (2007). Where has he made the biggest strides, in his mind?
"Physically, it's with my hands and routes, but mentally, I know the position now. Coach (James) Shibest can say something to me about a technique or something and I know what he's talking about. Last year, I wasn't that comfortable with the position," he explained. "It wasn't as matural to me as it is now.
"Tight end is no longer foreign to me. Blocking has always been easy for me since I played OT for three years. The rest now makes sense and it's starting to get better every day."
Traxler is excited about playing in the new offense because of the mindset of the new Rebel coaches toward the tight end.
"They showed at Arkansas that if the tight end is capable of producing, they will get him the ball. That's exciting to me. It's proven, so it's up to us. If we show we can produce, we will be rewarded and that's all you can ask as a tight end," he stated.
David said there is a different mindset in the Rebel camp now. The team is in the middle of the offseason workouts getting prepared for the March 17th start of spring training and "everyone is excited about it."
"I have not heard one negative word since the new coaches came in. They have made it very clear to us that they are the coaches but this is our team," said Trax. "They are not going to wait around on players who do not want to be out there giving it everything they have, but the ones who show ownership in the team and put everything into it will be rewarded.
"We will be getting out of it exactly what we put into it, if that makes sense. We know the coaches are here for us, not the other way around. I have already developed a good relationship with my position coach and so have most of the guys on the team. It's all about ownership and taking pride in our team. The coaches are all good people. They are really demanding, but you know they are doing it so you to get better."
Traxler, Harris, Frison, former DL Ben Benedetto and former DL Garrett Ryan are all working at tight end in the offseason.
Right now, you'd have to say Trax and Harris are the two favorites to log the most playing time in 2008.
Traxler says he's up to the challenge.
"I've been working hard this offsason and I don't intend to let up any. I anything, I am going to work even harder," he noted.
Strength & Conditioning Coach Don Decker says Traxler is making excellent strides in the offseason.
"His lift numbers are blowing up. David is doing an excellent job and it's showing with his strength numbers," Decker stated. "If he'll keep working like he is working now, he should have a very good senior season."
Traxler is excited about the next 10 months as his Rebel career races to the finish line.
"We all feel like we have been given a new lease on our football lives and we intend to make the most of it," he closed.
Lane and Hough are gone, but Traxler has vowed to make sure they are not missed.
David Traxler -
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