By Jim Sullivan
---- — The Triton football team has had its share of challenges this year, not the least of which includes replacing 16 seniors from last year’s team or acclimating a junior quarterback to the spread offense.
When it came down to leadership, the Vikings found a co-captain in an unlikely spot: Travis Kneeland.
“Travis has always been a very quiet kid, always,” Vikings coach Pat Sheehan says of Kneeland. “And this year, he’s really become a vocal leader — a leader by example. He hasn’t missed a thing. He’s always got a great attitude and works his tail off.”
A consummate team player, Kneeland plays tight end, wide receiver and defensive end.
“On the defensive end, teams have been running away from him,” says Sheehan. “As a wide receiver, he’s got 20 catches for 350 yards and four touchdowns. He’s a very reliable receiver. (Quarterback Brad Whitman) loves throwing him the ball because he knows, for the most part, Travis will come down and catch it.”
Playing a combination JV and special teams last year, Kneeland did his thing with punt returns and being a good teammate, but always with an eye on playing varsity in his senior year.
“I was sick of JV,” admits Kneeland. “It was embarrassing, I thought. But I made the commitment to step up. I knew there were a lot of seniors that played last year, and there would be spots being filled, and I wanted one of those spots on both sides, offense and defense.”
Not many players would think of making captain in their first full year on the varsity squad, but that was always Kneeland’s goal.
“I wanted to be captain last year, but I didn’t get it, so I just thought to myself, ‘Well, if I’m not going to get it, I might as well be a leader out there anyway,’” says Kneeland. “The seniors are supposed to be leaders, so I decided that needed to happen. Through the first half of the season, I stepped up, being a leader, telling kids where to go and what to do on the field and off the field too. And the coaches saw that and they chose me.”
“It was a coaching decision,” confirms Sheehan. “But the kids were all on board. The kids erupted in a round of applause, and they were all excited and he’s done a great job for us since.”
At mid-season, Kneeland was named co-captain along with fellow seniors Joe Ruocco and Connor Barry.
“It was one of the best feelings of my life,” Kneeland says of making captain. “It was very big for me because a lot of my family had played sports. My dad (Ron) played football and he was a captain. My brother (Cal) played basketball, and he was a captain. My cousin (Cam), he’s been very successful in sports. And my cousin, Mike Foley, who was football captain, I looked up to him and my dad. They are both big role models in my life.”
Indeed, Kneeland’s relatives are all big names in the Triton sports world, and he has had to deal with that his entire life. But he does it in his soft-spoken style.
“I just go out there and do it,” says Kneeland. “I have a very athletic family.”
That athleticism has served him well as a wide receiver this year.
“I love it,” Kneeland says of receiving. “Most of the times I don’t know how to celebrate (a touchdown), emotions take over. I’ll celebrate with a couple of teammates, but no Gronks.”
With his senior year on the gridiron coming to a close, Kneeland knows that he can be proud of his accomplishments.
“Going into the season, a lot of the teams looked at us as replacements,” Kneeland says of he and his fellow seniors. “But we tried to prove this year that we weren’t. The record doesn’t reflect it, but I feel like the team that we have, there’s a lot of younger kids on it. In the next couple of years, it’s going to be a very good program.”
He’s also setting his sights on Pentucket, where the Vikings will fight their annual Thanksgiving Day battle.
“It’s definitely going to be a tough game, but it is going to be a good game,” Kneeland says of the Pentucket tilt. “This one is going to be a very emotional game, I feel. We’re going to see a good game.”