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Travis Leitko: Leitko appreciates ND more during time away

Brian Doxtader | Friday, November 17, 2006

Travis Leitko didn’t fully understand Notre Dame until he was away from it.

The 6-foot-7, 270-pound defensive tackle missed the 2005 season during a year-long hiatus, but found himself back under the dome in 2006, looking to complete his degree and finish his college football career.

“You miss things you don’t realize,” Leitko said. “The time off definitely allowed me to sit back, regroup and rethink about what I want and where I am.”

As a dedicated student-athlete, Leitko explained how difficult it can be to balance academics with athletics, especially at a rigorous institution like Notre Dame.

“I was constantly in overdrive just trying to survive,” Leitko said. “With that year off, I was able to finally take a breath and look at where I was at what I was doing and really ask myself, ‘Is this what I want?'”

The answer for Leitko was yes. Upon his return, the Woodlands, Texas native hit both the field and the books harder than ever, taking on both academic and athletic challenges with a newfound energy.

Leitko arrived at Notre Dame as a defensive end, but has since shifted to defensive tackle.

“It’s been challenging, but I’ve enjoyed it,” said Leitko. “I’ve been able to adjust pretty well. I’m just trying to do my best.”

As a history major, Leitko has found plenty of challenges and opportunities off the field as well.

“I’ve always been interested in history,” he said. “I love the motivations behind what has happened, what moves our society and world, and I think it’s a great concentration for your life because it gives you a great base in analytical thinking and human behavior.”

“I’ve been working hard, studying a lot, trying to finish my degree.”

Yet the year off has clearly given Leitko better perspective, as he recognizes the pressure that many college students put on themselves.

“As a society in general, we’re so pushed to go to college, graduate, get a real job, work, and I think a lot of people are pushed by that timetable,” said Leitko. “I think it narrows your scope of how you think, and what you do.”

Leitko has tried not to be limited by such a narrow focus, working for Davidson Instruments as an engineering intern during his time at home. While he spent much of the first semester taking care of his mother and father, who were both ill, he was able to work during the spring when they both took a turn for the better. While at Davidson, he and a team of engineers received a provisional patent on a fiber-optic differential sensor, which measures flow in a variety of engineering capacities.

Leitko is also a familiar presence in Keenan Hall, where he has lived all four years.

“I didn’t plan it that way, but it just worked out,” he said. “It’s been a positive experience for me.”

Leitko also stressed that he wanted to fully integrate himself into the Notre Dame student body.

“I always try to be around when I can, be a part of it,” he said. “I don’t just want to be a guy who sleeps there. I want to be part of the community.”

Most importantly, the time away allowed Leitko to put Notre Dame in perspective and understand what makes it so special.

“I didn’t really come here for the tradition,” he said. “I think for me, Notre Dame was the best fit, both academically and athletically. I always challenge myself in the classroom and on the field and of the schools I was looking at, I think it best embodied that.”

Yet upon his return, Leitko found a lot of what he was missing.

“The people are what make Notre Dame special,” he said. “I’m really glad to be back. I just want to get in there and be the best I can be, both academically and athletically.”