Sept. 4, 2001
Today, more and more college football players are using weight lifting as a valuable tool for improving their strength and speed. Travis Zachery is no exception to this trend, but for the senior running back from Marietta, GA, his main source of strength does not come from a bench press or a squat rack. Instead it comes from the strong support of his family and from a mother who has always been there for him even when things have not gone exactly according to plan.
Zachery grew up in Marietta with his mother Katie, his two older sisters Crystal and Charita, and his older brother Michael. His mom raised all four children on her own while also working full-time as the shoe manager at a local department store. Zachery’s childhood was far from easy but it was his mom who held the family together even in the hardest of times. “My mom has definitely had the biggest influence on my life,” stated Zachery. “It has not been easy for our family and my mom has had to struggle to be able to support my brothers and sisters and I.”
After a stellar high school career as a basketball and football player at Marietta High School, Zachery became one the most highly sought after running backs in the nation. PrepStar rated him as an All-American and The Recruiting Advisor ranked him as the 17th best tailback in the nation. After countless discussions with his mom, he decided that Clemson would be the place that would best prepare to achieve his goal of one day playing in the NFL. More importantly, though, Clemson was close enough to his home in Georgia that his family would be able to come to every game.
“My mom, my two sisters, and my brother came to all my games when I was growing up and I didn’t want that to change when I went to college,” recalled Zachery. “Another reason that I chose Clemson was because I grew up in the atmosphere of a big city and I wanted to go somewhere that was smaller and quieter so that I could concentrate on football and school. It was a tough decision, though, because I loved basketball and thought that I might want to play that in college instead of football.”
As the youngest of four children, Zachery became the first member of his family to attend college when he came to Clemson in the fall of 1997. As a red-shirt freshman in 1998, he started all 11 games and became the first freshman running back to start every game for the Tigers since Terry Allen in 1987. That season he also led the team in rushing and all-purpose yardage and was named an honorable mention freshman All-American by Football News.
Success did not come easy for Zachery, however, and it was not until a late game 28-yard catch over North Carolina’s All-American cornerback Dre’ Bly in the fifth game of the season that Zachery gained the confidence he needed to become a big-time college tailback. “After I caught the pass over Bly it was like, ‘Welcome to college to football’ and that one play really helped my confidence,” remembered Zachery.
The following season, in Coach Tommy Bowden’s first year at Clemson, Zachery was suspended from spring practice and the opening game of the season against Marshall as a result of off the field discipline problems. Although his suspension was hard for him to understand at the time, Zachery now views it as probably the most important period of life.
“Looking back on it now, it made me see some things that I was not seeing at the time,” recalled Zachery. “Getting suspended was very hard on me because all I could do was sit there and watch as my teammates performed so hard on the field. It helped me to realize though that I had to start doing things right if I wanted to be successful.
“Coach Bowden was hard on me, but that really helped me out. Who knows what would have happened to me if he had not got me going in the right direction and made me see things differently. He still pushes me very hard everyday and that really has helped me to keep getting better.”
As she has been throughout his entire life, Zachery’s mom was there for him as he struggled to deal with the fact that the game he loved so much had been taken away from him. She called him every night to check on him and to make sure that he was not getting down on himself. “He’s my baby and I knew that he was going through a tough time,” Ms. Zachery said of her youngest son. “I simply told him that he was at the crossroads in his life and that he was not going to be able to run away from his mistakes. I also kept telling him that everyone makes mistakes, but that he was going to have to start acting like a man and correct those mistakes if he was going to become a stronger person.”
Despite sitting out the Marshall game, Zachery finished the 1999 season as the Tigers’ leading rusher and his 16 touchdowns that season were the second highest single season total in Clemson history. He helped lead the Tigers to a second place finish in the ACC and a berth against Mississippi State in the Peach Bowl. Even though he suffered a dislocated elbow in the bowl game, the success the team experienced that season remains as one the highlights of his career. “We were in every game that season and were only a couple of points away from winning those games,” stated Zachery. “After going 3-8 the year before, the way we were able to pull together as a team is something that I am very proud of and that I will never forget.”
Last season, Zachery was named first-team All-ACC and became the eighth player in Clemson history to rush for 1000 yards. He had probably his best game of the season against Maryland on homecoming when he rushed for 151 yards and caught three passes in a game televised on ESPN2. For the season, he was second on the team in receptions with 29 and his 18 touchdowns set the Clemson record for touchdowns in a season. He became Clemson’s career leader for receptions by a running back (60) and he also broke the Clemson record for most career touchdowns (39). His 108 total points last season set a Clemson single season record, and his 1370 all-purpose running yards were the seventh highest single season total in school history.
“Breaking the all-time touchdown record at Clemson is something that I am very proud of because breaking records has always been a goal of mine,” Zachery said. “People have always doubted my ability and told me that I couldn’t do this or I couldn’t do that so that was a very big accomplishment for me personally.”
Even with the tremendous success he has experienced over the last three seasons, Zachery admits that he probably would not be in the position that he is today without the strength and support of his mom. “She is the reason I work so hard on the field,” he stated. “I have had some struggles since I have been here, but I always keep her in the back of my mind. She was there for me every step of the way and she really sets a good of example for the way I want to live my life. She has always kept our family together, doing the right things and I want to do good things because of her.”
Zachery’s mom has always told him that family is the most important thing in life and that it is his family that will be there beside him no matter how bad things might get. “When we do something, we do it together and as a family,” Ms. Zachery stated. “Whether it is having Sunday dinner at my house or driving to one of Travis’s games, I insist that everyone be there.”
The effort his family makes to attend all of his games and the support the team gets from all Clemson fans is something that Zachery appreciates. “Every game when I get my four tickets I know that they are going to my mom, my two sisters, and my brother,” smiled Zachery. “I also know exactly where their seats are every game and they are the first people I look to when I score a touchdown.
“I also love that Clemson is a football school and that we have fans out there watching even when we are out there practicing. There is great fan support at Clemson and everybody is always pulling for you. I just love the atmosphere of Clemson.”
His entire life, Zachery has become accustomed to people telling him that he doesn’t have the necessary size or speed to be a successful running back. Over his college career he has become not only one the best pure running backs in Clemson history, but he has also developed into the school’s best receiver out of the backfield. His improvement as a player has not been simply by chance or coincidence but rather it has been by persistence and hard work.
“I know I am not the fastest or the biggest guy on the field, but I just try to concentrate on the abilities that I do have,” said Zachery. “I have been blessed with good hands and good vision and I think those attributes are just as important as being fast. I always try to focus on the things that I can control in my life and on the field. Running good routes and increasing my agility are aspects of my game that I can improve. Those are the types of things that I spend the most time on in practice and in the off season.”
Zachery says that he is very impressed with what he seen from the incoming class of freshmen and that he has very high expectations for himself and the team in 2001. He is a preseason Doak Walker Award candidate and all the pieces seem to be in place for an outstanding senior season. “The freshmen we are bringing in are getting better and better every year,” Zachery said. “There is a great deal of speed in this year’s class and if they keep working and doing the things they are supposed to, they are going to be very good.
“We want to go undefeated, that is our team goal. Our goal on offense is to be unstoppable in every game. In the past we have not been able to execute and move the ball in the big games and that is something that we have to improve on. Personally, my goal is to improve on the numbers that I put up last year. Another goal is to be a better blocker and a better leader on the team.”
For Clemson to be reach these goals, however, Zachery also knows the he is going to have to provide valuable leadership to the younger players on the team. “I am not a very vocal guy on the field and I just try to lead by example,” Zachery stated. “I am very intense on the field, though, and when it is time to shout and show emotion I will do it. I want to score every time I touch the ball and inside the red zone I am hungry for the ball. I feel like I have a knack for wanting to get into the end zone and I want the other players on the team to have that same feeling.”
While she knows her son’s goal is to play in the NFL, Ms. Zachery gives daily reminders to him about the importance of an education. “I tell Travis every day, that getting an education is the first and foremost reason that he is in college,” she said. “He also knows that he has been blessed with an amazing gift to play football, but just as easy as he was given that gift it can be taken away at any time.” If the NFL does not work out for Zachery, don’t be surprised to see him coaching football or basketball at a high school in your area. “I have always loved being around kids and I could see myself being a coach someday after I stop playing football,” stated Zachery. “The only problem is that it would be hard for me to decide between coaching basketball or football because I love both sports.”
The pride Ms. Zachery has in Travis is very evident when she is asked about the progress he has made both on and off the football field since his arrival at Clemson four years ago. “He has matured so much over the last couple of years,” his mom stated. “He has become such a strong person and I am just so grateful that he has remembered everything that I have tried to teach him.”
“People are always coming up to me at work and asking me if I am Travis Zachery mom, and it makes me feel so good to tell them that he is my son. I truly believe that I have four of the best children anybody could every have, but I am especially proud of Travis and all that he has been able to accomplish.”
Jacob Barker is a second-year graduate student from Clemson, SC and works in the Clemson Sports Information Office.
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