Jake Trantin sat on a couch on the first floor of William and Mary Hall and reflected on the past year, but only because he was asked to do so.
William and Mary's genial workhorse of a middle linebacker isn't much for navel-gazing or rumination, preferring to focus on what's ahead rather than what's behind — even when the subject is one of the most difficult periods of his life.
Trantin sat out the entire 2010 season, abruptly withdrawing from school early last fall to return home to Maryland for family and personal reasons. He missed his teammates, his friends, the Tribe's ascent to No. 1, a CAA championship and a second consecutive trip to the playoffs. He missed one-fourth of his college career.
"Things happened the way they did," Trantin said. "They kind of had to happen that way. It was a situation where I think the best course of action was taken. Regrets? It got me to where I am today, so I can't say I would have done anything any different. Things happen for a reason, right?"
There is no making up for lost time, since lost time is just that. What Trantin can do, all he can do, is be the best player and teammate possible in his final season. As for what he might have accomplished or how much better he'd be had he not spent a year away from the game? Wasted energy.
"Coaches have said (that) it looks like you're getting back to where you were," he said. "That's good, but at the same time, myself and the coaches don't expect me to be what I was. We expect me to progress and be better. That's something that I'm getting to and there's no doubt in my mind that I will, in a couple more weeks or so. It's a work in progress. It's always a work in progress, even if I was 10 times better than I am now."
During the year at home, Trantin still worked out diligently. He returned to school nearly 15 pounds heavier, at 245 pounds, but moves as well as he did when he was lighter.
While his reactions and reads must be sharpened through competition, his leadership qualities remain intact and unimpeachable. He was voted a team captain.
"He's such a stabilizing person out there," Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock said. "When things are going well, you're fine. But when things aren't going well, you need somebody who's like a rock that you can count on to pull people together, and he's that kind of guy. He's just so solid. He really knows what he's doing out there."
In Trantin's absence last season, the Tribe moved outside linebacker Dante Cook to the middle. He had an excellent season, but Trantin's return provided two benefits: moving Cook back outside, where he can use his speed to make plays in space; and giving the Tribe defense essentially a coach on the field.
"I think people respect me, not because of the way I act when I became captain," Trantin said, "but because they respect the way I act and that's why they voted me captain. I haven't changed the way I am or how I approach the sport.
"I come to this game like it's a job — one that I love to do, obviously, but that it's work and I'm not afraid to work at it."
Leadership comes naturally to Trantin. His father was professional military, logging 22 years in the Army before retiring in 1998. Robert Trantin was a Green Beret and spent seven years as a paratrooper. Jake never saw his father command troops in the field, but absorbed the lessons he taught and watched how others reacted to him in civilian life.
"Most of what I am is because of my dad," Trantin said. "Just watching him as a kid growing up, the way he carried himself, the way everyone else perceived him and the way people looked at him. He respects himself a lot, he respects his name. He was a good leader. He carried himself accordingly."
There was little question that Trantin would lean toward family when a crisis arose. Typical of many military families, the Trantins moved 11 times in Robert's first 15 years in the Army, finally settling at Fort Meade in Maryland for his last assignment. Because of the frequency of moves the family relied on each other and became increasingly tight. All seven Trantin children were home-schooled at some point.
Robert Trantin said that all of he and his wife Lisa's kids have hard shells and soft interiors, with Jake maybe a little more tender-hearted than the others. He hated the circumstances that brought Jake home, but loved having him around.
"It was probably the most difficult thing he's ever had to do," said Robert Trantin, who now works as a defense contractor and consultant. "It was a very tough time for him and for all of us. We were hoping and praying that he'd be able to move on, and he seems to have done that."
Jake Trantin possesses a disarming smile and playful nature that mask a drive and focus that his parents witnessed since he was a youngster. He began lifting weights at age 12 and would have done so earlier had his dad permitted.
Attempting to improve his speed and quickness in high school, Trantin relentlessly used an agility ladder that Robert bought for him, and he drilled in all conditions — day, night, rain, shine, snow, heat.
In youth sports, Trantin routinely played up two or three years because of his ability and determination. An exceptional youth hockey player, he made a Washington D.C.-area 20-and-under team at age 15, regularly traveling to Pennsylvania, New York and New England on weekends.
However, the grind of travel team hockey along with football practice took a toll, physically and mentally. Prep school hockey was officiated more tightly than its travel team counterpart, which negated part of the physical Trantin's game and pushed him toward football.
Though Trantin was named All-Met by both the Washington and Baltimore papers, he was lightly recruited. His only scholarship offers were from William and Mary and Towson, and Towson's coaches wanted him to bulk up in order to play the defensive line.
Trantin has flourished as a linebacker. He led the Tribe in tackles two years ago as a redshirt sophomore and was second-team All-CAA.
He hopes to pursue football beyond college. He doesn't have to look far for advice or a valid scouting appraisal; mom Lisa's brother is longtime NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer, now with the UFL's Virginia Destroyers. His uncle Kurt, also with the Destroyers, spent years in the NFL, and Marty's son, Brian, is offensive coordinator for the Jets.
Trantin also feels pulled toward home after graduation. He'd like to spend more time with his younger brothers, saying he missed them growing up. He may follow in his father's footsteps and join the military. Robert Trantin said he neither encourages or discourages his son in that direction, but that he will walk with him to the recruiters' office if that's what he chooses.
But that's all too much to consider, especially with the remaining weeks of his college season and classes ahead.
"I have no big plans," Trantin said. "I'm just kind of taking it day by day."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun