Jalen Travis ’24 describes himself as a “determined change maker.”
Whether the 6-foot-9, 315-pound Princeton team captain is on the football field or off, he has been striving to make an impact. Pro Football Focus, which rates every Division I college player, ranked the two-year starter the No. 1 offensive tackle in the country through the first two games of his senior year. He aspires to play in the NFL.
“The window to accomplish [your] dreams in terms of playing in the NFL is very small,” Travis said. “I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t take advantage of that and pursue my dreams while they’re in front of me.”
Travis, though, has further aspirations. He would like to earn a law degree to work toward “making change and influencing the change I want to see in my communities.” He was a senior at DeLaSalle High in Minneapolis when George Floyd’s murder sparked him to co-found the Just Action Coalition. He had been a leader in pushing for student advocacy throughout high school and organized the school’s walkout following the Parkland shooting, but starting the nonprofit that empowered youth to address racial biases and police brutality through the political process was eye-opening.
“We were there and made sure we were able to speak up when necessary to contribute in a way that we believed would make our community safer and rebuild that trust and establish that trust between law enforcement and the community they serve,” said Travis.
Earlier this year, Travis was one of 62 college students to receive the Truman Scholarship, which awards each scholar up to $30,000 to be used at any time toward an advanced degree aimed at working in public service.
“Each step along the way I’ve been able to gain and learn instrumental things to help me better curate my path when football is over, so I know exactly what I want to do and how I want to attack it.”
— Jalen Travis ’24
Princeton offensive tackle
“You just hope that one day you get to coach a guy like Bill Bradley ’65,” said head coach Bob Surace ’90. “I can only imagine [Butch] van Breda Kolff in 1963 having that guy that is so talented in so many ways. I’m not trying to use hyperbole or put undue pressure on him.”
There was a time when Travis’ athletic pursuits more closely followed Bradley’s or his brothers’ — Jonah, who led Harvard men’s basketball to four NCAA Tournament berths, and Reid, who played at Stanford and Kentucky and now plays professionally overseas. The fourth of five children, Travis also has two sisters who competed in college athletics. While he played AAU basketball with a pair of top-five NBA draft picks, Jalen Suggs and Chet Holmgren, Travis saw being a football lineman as his challenging yet rewarding pro path beyond college.
“If I do my job, my hard work will shine through,” said Travis. “I think that’s part of what went into me choosing football, just being the person I am.”
On campus, Travis lends his voice to the Princeton community as a member of the Student-Athlete Service Council, a Princeton Advocacy and Activism Student Board liaison, and a student advisory board member in the Program for Community-Engaged Scholarship. He interned for the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice last summer, and in the summer of 2022 he interned for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and was awarded the Leonard D. Schaeffer Fellowship.
“Each step along the way I’ve been able to gain and learn instrumental things to help me better curate my path when football is over, so I know exactly what I want to do and how I want to attack it,” Travis said.
He remains adamant about the importance of community service, penning an op-ed in The Daily Princetonian last year that called for the University to give course credit for service, in response to an oft-heard complaint that students don’t have enough time to serve. Travis has pulled off a tough juggling act by balancing school, service, and football.
“I choose to allot that time to stuff I truly believe in,” Travis said, “helping and giving back because I think that’s what in large part has formed my identity to this point and continues to form it — because I truly believe there’s no higher privilege in this world than to share what you have with other people and help them achieve.”