I always try and play with that chip on my shoulder and to prove people wrong. I’m really excited for the game. —Travis Van Leeuwen
LOGAN — Aggie wide receiver Travis Van Leeuwen has heard plenty of doubts in his career at Utah State.
The latest came just this summer. After the graduation of Chuck Jacobs, Matt Austin and seemingly the rest of the Aggie wide receiving corps, there were plenty of questions around the program about who quarterback Chuckie Keeton would throw the ball to. Van Leeuwen had shown well in part-time duty during his career, but had never been asked to shoulder the load of being a No. 1 receiver.
“We definitely used that as motivation,” Van Leeuwen said. “As seniors, Travis Reynolds and I knew that we had plenty of doubters. We also knew the talent we had and wanted to prove people wrong.”
Five games into the 2013 season, it is hard to find much of a drop-off from 2012. Last year’s leading receiver Matt Austin finished with 48 catches for 729 yards. With 21 catches each this season, Reynolds and Van Leeuwen are right on pace for a 50-catch year. Add in the emergence of Bruce ‘JoJo’ Natson (28 receptions) and Brandon Swindall (17 receptions, 4 touchdowns) and a case can be made that this year’s wide outs have performed even better than the group that preceded it.
Exceeding expectations and proving people wrong is nothing new for Van Leeuwen. At Timpview High in Provo, he helped the Thunderbirds to three-straight 4A titles and a 36 game winning streak. Even with a cabinet full of awards and a legacy that included both of his parents having been student athletes at BYU, Van Leeuwen opted to attend Utah State.
“I was interested in playing there, along with Utah and some Pac-10 schools, but recruiting is tough. You have to find the right guy for the right system, so they must have seen something they didn’t like,” Van Leeuwen said.
Gary Andersen, however, saw plenty that he liked and signed Van Leeuwen to his first recruiting class in 2009. Since then it’s been a steady climb for Van Leeuwen, who is finally getting his chance to shine in his senior season. The 6-foot-2 wide receiver has caught at least four passes in four out of five games and already has career highs in receptions and receiving yards.
Even though this week is just another game in terms of preparation, game planning, film work and practices for Van Leewuen, there is still a little something extra in playing against the team he grew up down the street from, the team everyone in his hometown roots for and the team that missed out on a homegrown product.
“It’s not too personal,” Van Leewuen said. “But I always try and play with that chip on my shoulder and to prove people wrong. I’m really excited for the game.”
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.