April 17, 2004
By Greg Touney
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Standing at an imposing 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, Travis Leitko doesn’t need to offer much of an explanation for his nickname — “Thor.” However, Leitko’s nickname, which was started by his Notre Dame football teammates and has spread to his fellow residents at Keenan Hall, is not really just a testament to his build, but his outstanding conditioning and work ethic, too.
“‘Thor’ was given to me my freshman year during two-a-days,” the defensive end explains. “Coming from Texas, I was used to the heat and humidity and my high school practices were structured very similar [to the ones at Notre Dame].
“Over the summer I conditioned very well, so when I came here, the conditioning and the workouts didn’t make me sore. They made up a few names for me and one of them was ‘Thor’.”
Because of Notre Dame’s depth at defensive end, the junior-to-be has been working hard to add “future starter” to his list of labels. A native of The Woodlands, Texas, he has sought to improve his game in a multitude of areas during the offseason.
“I’m really trying to work right now on hitting the guys as hard as I can, being really explosive, and reestablishing the line of scrimmage back behind the original line,” Leitko says. “I just need to stop worrying about the little things and focus on what I really need to do.”
If there’s anyone on the Irish squad who has little things — and big things — to worry about, it might definitely be Leitko, whose academic challenges rival his athletic ones. Enrolled in the College of Engineering, Leitko is majoring in one of the toughest fields of study — aerospace engineering.
Not convinced of his major’s difficulty? His current project asks him to write a computer program to calculate the orbit of Pluto using two different techniques. And if that’s not tough enough, the project is only one of three that he’s presently working on.
“[Aerospace engineering] is not easy, but I didn’t expect it to be,” Leitko says. “I’m doing this because it’s what I love to do. Sometimes I’ve got to skip out on things, but I’m happy with my choice and I’m going to stick with it through thick and thin.”
This same intelligence (he scored over 1,500 on his SAT), determination and persistence that Leitko shows in the classroom is also evident in his progress on the field. Leitko didn’t see action as a freshman in 2002, but earned his first monogram last season by contributing on the special teams unit. He also got increased time on the defensive line at the end of his sophomore campaign.
Over the offseason, Leitko has worked on increasing his intensity during games.
“I’m going as hard as I can,” he explains. “You can’t let up. You never know when you’re going to be running down the field and [the ball carrier] is going to cut back and you’re going to have to make the game-saving tackle.”
Leitko’s scope isn’t just limited to his personal growth, either. He hopes that the current defensive squad can reach the high standards that earlier Notre Dame teams have set.
“Defensively, we want to go back to the way we were a couple of years ago when people would see us out there and be like, ‘Wow, those guys play hard’,” Leitko says. “We want to fly to the ball, we want to hit hard, and we’re going to be energetic out there.”
The public will see a preview for the first time during Notre Dame’s 75th Blue-Gold Game on April 24 at 1:30 p.m. (EST) at Notre Dame Stadium. As spring practices wind down, Leitko feels very optimistic about his team’s progress.
“Everything’s going well,” he says. “I feel really confident about this upcoming week.”
Leitko notes that all his life he has been awed by space’s “unlimited potential.” However, the defensive lineman needs only to look at himself in the mirror to view an impressive source of unlimited potential wrapped up in his 265-pound frame. In 2004, Leitko has continued to work his hardest — both on and off the field — in order to unlock it.
— ND —