The sweetest Nebraska football celebration in years occurred on the East side of Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium last November. Huskers carried the freshly earned Heroes Trophy along the visiting team’s sideline for the traveling fans to touch. In that celebration was tight end Travis Vokolek, hampered and with no games left to play.
Originally from Springfield, Missouri, Vokolek played two seasons at Rutgers before transferring to Nebraska. He went from a transfer, 9-catch tight end into team captain by his final, injury-riddled season. His lifelong journey to make an NFL roster continues later this month with the NFL Draft. There could be life after the Draft. Undrafted free agents-to-roster regular stories happen in the land of the greatest. But he worked out in Pensacola, Florida, for weeks and accepted an NFL Combine invitation with the intention of getting his name called in Kansas City.
Three Huskers received invitations to this year’s NFL Combine, all of them transfer arrivals. Vokolek’s measurements stood out among his group with nearly 33-inch arms and 9-and-a-half-inch hands. He broad jumped 9 feet, 7 inches and completed 20 bench press reps. But that’s all he measured, No 40 time, no 3-cone, no shuttle. He fulfilled all those measurements at Nebraska’s Pro Day last month and explained why.
“I came out of the season in a boot from getting a stress fracture in my foot in that Iowa game,” Vokolek said. “That put me in a boot for a couple weeks and kind of delayed my training in certain drills. That kind of played a part in it.”
His role within the Nebraska offense grew in his three years, culminating with a 20-catch, two-touchdown season in 2022, despite that injury and one suffered in Ireland at the beginning of the season. Vokolek and former Husker tight end Austin Allen melded into close friends during their time at Nebraska. They stayed in touch when Allen went to the NFL last season. Vokolek learned all he could from who he calls his best friend. He also received valuable Draft preparation insight from fellow former Husker Travis Vokolek.
Admittedly, it’s been a difficult journey since that Iowa game—where he did not register a catch. But that stop back in Lincoln to showcase his skills at Pro Day was a crucial chapter in a journey he’s still thankful for.
“It’s been a long process, still going on,” Vokolek said. “This isn’t the end of it, I’m still learning a lot. You’ve just got to be patient. There’s a lot of things go on. I was down in Florida training by myself training with a bunch of guys from all over the country so it was different but I think I’m a pretty friendly guy and getting to know them was fun. I enjoyed every second of it. It’s been a long process but it’s football, I live for football. I love everything about it.”
He trained in Pensacola with other NFL hopefuls on everything—footwork, pass catching, blocking, routes and everything in between. Vokolek left Pro Day pleased with how his day went, bemoaning just one drop in pass catching drills. Working out in front of representatives from all 32 NFL teams and being back with his former teammates brought him a spiritual lift. That long journey drained him in order to perform at his highest for just over an hour. And although he competed at the Combine, that lingering injury forced him to sit out some drills and gave him more to prove at Pro Day.
Vokolek finished and was faced with the multitude of emotions. That gave him a moment to pause and appreciate what he’s done before focusing on the road ahead.
“You’ve really just got to stay patient. You know, one thing as an athlete you’ll always have self-doubt, so trust the process,” Vokolek said. “It’s frustrating because you start out and you’re not getting the results that you want so you’ve just got to trust the process and continue, just know you’re on the right track and the end goal is better than the current situation.”