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Former Badger Austin Traylor continuing professional football journey in AAF

The former Wisconsin tight end talks about his path to the Salt Lake Stallions.

Inside Rice–Eccles Stadium last Saturday evening, snow covered the field as the Salt Lake Stallions hosted the Orlando Apollos. The scene reminded former Wisconsin tight end Austin Traylor of another wintry game he played in.

That would be Melvin Gordon’s record-setting performance inside Camp Randall Stadium back in 2014. Gordon ripped off 408 yards in a winter wonderland against a porous Nebraska defense in a 59-24 victory.

“Melvin was my roommate at the time so I was more than excited for my brother, watching him perform,” Traylor told B5Q on Wednesday. “A lot of people forget how rough he started that game off with the two fumbles but he bounced back, showed why he is who he is and had a great night.”

Now in the Alliance for American Football (AAF) during its inaugural season, Traylor continues to contribute his tight end skills as a member of the upstart Salt Lake Stallions franchise.

After playing in 38 games with 18 starts for Wisconsin from 2012-15, Traylor moved around between several different NFL organizations. He initially worked out for the Dallas Cowboys at a rookie camp in 2016, then signed as an undrafted free agent.

That rookie season, Traylor spent time with five teams mostly on practice squads, from the Cowboys to the San Diego Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, and Denver Broncos.

He signed a reserve/futures contract with the Broncos for the 2017 season, and though he was placed on the practice squad at the start, he received the call up to the active roster in November. He started in his first NFL game on Nov. 19.

Traylor went on to play in seven games that season with three starts, catching eight passes for 100 yards. He went into 2018 training camp as one of several former Big Ten tight ends on the Broncos’ roster, but was cut.

After not playing last season, he received the opportunity to join the AAF and was allocated to the Stallions.

“I was excited,” Traylor said. “Another chance to play football and just trying to take advantage of it.”

So far during this inaugural season, Traylor has played in three of the four contests for Salt Lake (1-3) as the Stallions head on the road to take on the San Diego Fleet (2-2) in a key West division contest on Saturday (7 p.m. CT, NFL Network). After being inactive the first weekend of play against the Arizona Hotshots, he has been in the tight end rotation the last three weeks while recording one catch for nine yards. He feels his role is developing.

“I think it’s growing. We just kind of go through it,” Traylor said. “Game plan is week by week depending upon what we see with the teams, but I think there is a place in the offense for me and where they use me.”

There are rule differences between the AAF and NFL. There are no kickoffs in the AAF, and teams who win the opening coin toss start the game at their own 25-yard line. After each touchdown, there are no extra points,just two-point conversion attempts.

Other modifications from the NFL include a shorter play clock (35 seconds instead of 40), a “sky judge” that can quickly “correct ‘obvious and egregious’ officiating errors,” and with no kickoffs, “onside conversions” allow teams to have the ball on their own 28-yard line and try to convert a 4th-and-12 opportunity.

Defenses also cannot rush more than five players on a passing play. Those defenders also cannot pursue the passer “from a position of more than two yards outside the widest offensive lineman and more than five yards from the line of scrimmage” (run-pass options or play-action plays are exceptions).

“It’s not so much different, it’s still football,” Traylor said. “With the pass rush and stuff, it limits things, so a lot of things reads and protections-wise, it just doesn’t have to happen offensively, but it’s still the same game.

“No kickoffs, that’s something that’s probably the one thing that I mentally had to get used to, just to go right out there, kind of the classic conditioning-type thing. Normally there’s kickoff, then you know, OK, it’s game time.”

Playing for Salt Lake, Traylor praise the reception to the new franchise from the Stallions’ “lovely” fans.

“You can tell they enjoy football out here a lot and they show it and express it,” Traylor said. “I’ve been in Ubers and things ... and people were excited to hear from us. The way they support us at the game. They cheer, they show up. They showed up in the cold, so I’m actually excited that the fans are actually as interested as they are.”

Though he is the only active Badger on an AAF roster right now, there are Wisconsin connections within the league at many levels. As of Feb. 8, the Arizona Hotshots list former UW cornerback Darius Hillary as injured and not on the current active roster. At the coaching level, former Wisconsin offensive lineman Josh Oglesby coaches the tight ends for the San Antonio Commanders, led by former Nebraska head coach Mike Riley. Former walk-on quarterback Nate Tice works as the personnel director for the Atlanta Legends.

Traylor spoke with both Tice and Oglesby, former teammates when he redshirted as a freshman in 2011, prior to the season during the AAF’s training camp in San Antonio.

Both Hillary and Traylor started their UW careers as class-of-2011 teammates, and that bond continues.

“Me and Darius, we have a personal relationship,” Traylor said. “We came in together to Wisconsin so we talked before this, after this, text all the time. I spoke to him before and after the game when we played [Arizona] both times so definitely I’ve been able to communicate and stay in touch with them for sure.”