INDIANAPOLIS — Ross Travis said he wasn't alone as he took a throw from quarterback Chad Kelly and was tossed across the goal line early in the fourth quarter of Saturday's preseason contest against the Cleveland Browns.
Three hundred and fifty-two days after he suffered a brutal season-ending ACL injury late in the Indianapolis Colts' 2018 preseason finale against the Cincinnati Bengals — at a point when he had all but guaranteed a spot on the Week 1 roster — Travis on Saturday took a huge step forward in his comeback story, hauling in a 24-yard touchdown reception in his very first game back.
With his family in attendance at Lucas Oil Stadium — and with all his trainers, doctors, teammates, coaches and other key parts of his support system also looking on — Travis couldn't help but get a little misty eyed as he returned to the sideline.
"I know my mom, dad and sister are here, so I'm sure my mom's a little emotional — even I was a little emotional on the sideline, just because how last year went," Travis said. "And there's a select few people that know what you've got to go through to get back on that field and all the time you put in.
"But ultimately, man, I'm just happy to celebrate with everybody," he continued. "I told all the trainers, I told everybody I was working with me, 'Man, this was all of us,' you know what I'm saying? They were a big part of it."
Travis — a rangy, athletic target at 6-foot-6 and 248 pounds — has a story very familiar to Colts fans: like Mo Alie-Cox, Erik Swoope and Marcus Pollard, Ross garnered NFL intrigue as a project tight end due to his skills on the basketball court, despite the fact he had no significant prior football history.
A standout on the Penn State basketball team, Travis had a tryout in rookie minicamp with the Houston Texans in the spring of 2015 before he was signed to the Kansas City Chiefs' practice squad that September.
Thanks to his prior relationship with Colts general manager Chris Ballard — who was the Chiefs' Director of Football Operations at the time they took a flyer on Travis back in 2015 — Indianapolis jumped all over claiming Travis when he was waived by Kansas City in late-November of 2017.
Travis played in four games with the Colts the rest of the way in 2017, logging two receptions for 33 yards, but headed into the 2018 offseason with a shot to play a significant role in the offense moving foward. He had put in an impressive training camp and had caught six passes for 77 yards in preseason action when he went down with a knee injury along the sideline with 1:26 remaining in the fourth quarter of the team's final preseason game against the Bengals in Cincinnati.
Travis had no choice but to work his tail off to get back as soon as possible.
"Yeah, I felt like I was having a good camp, and I liked where I was sitting. And then something like that happens … It's just a minor setback, man," Travis said. "So I got to work in the training room, and I just had that going, 'I'm going to get back out here to work.'"
Travis — who was re-signed to a one-year deal in February — missed the entire offseason program this year as he worked his way back, and was able to return to the field at the start of training camp.
He was also accompanied by a bulky, awkward knee brace.
"Yeah, it was just more of a precautionary thing for the first week. It's just wearing the brace and making sure I'm comfortable out there since we're in pads again," Travis said. "But, yeah, I had to ditch that brace, man. I thought I was going to run out of it like Forrest Gump. I just had to get rid of it."
Once Travis was able to ditch that brace, he started to show off some of his silky smooth athleticism in the open field once again. Although his progress was halted temporarily by a hamstring injury — he sat out the Colts' first preseason game against the Buffalo Bills as a precaution — Travis was excited to get out on the field for his first game action in almost a year on Saturday, clearing a major hurdle in the process.
"Absolutely, that's the last part of an injury like that is just getting out on the field and feeling yourself making these cuts and visualizing the plays and all that stuff, man," Travis said. "Just being on your feet, and it's just all about gaining confidence out there in your leg again. And then you get out here on gameday and just play."
Travis said he actually ran his route wrong on his touchdown play, but credited Kelly with finding him regardless. On 1st and 10 from the Cleveland 24-yard line, Kelly took the snap and faked a handoff to running back Aca'Cedric Ware, and then looked for Travis, who originally lined up in a three-point stance off the right edge of the offensive line. He was supposed to keep bringing his man up the seam but bent his route a little sharper than he originally intended.
Finding himself perfectly in-between three members of the Browns' secondary, however, Travis turned his head and hauled in the pass from Kelly around the six-yard line and used his forward momentum to his advantage, as safety Tigie Sankoh could only hang on to the tight end's back and then toss him into the end zone.
It was a big moment for Travis, who hopes to continue taking steps to once again secure a spot on the Colts' 53-man roster come Week 1.
And one can be assured that the emotions he felt scoring that touchdown Saturday were replicated when he got a chance to see his family after the game.
"It's going to hit me a little later, too," Travis said with a smile.