MANHATTAN — Travis Tannahill is normally hard to miss.
At 6-foot-3 and 253 pounds, the senior tight end is a large person. . Even if he wasn’t, the curly hair he occasionally grows out and the thick beard he refuses to shave every November would make him stick out in practically any environment.
But once a week during the fall, Tannahill tries to become invisible.
He dresses in camouflage, covers himself with leaves and he crouches near the ground, trying to blend in with his surroundings.
“That’s my Sunday morning,” Tannahill said.
That’s the life of a duck hunter.
Waking up well before the sun rises, heading out to a nearby lake with friends and guns and not coming back until he has captured as many ducks as the state permits is his No. 1 hobby.
“I love it,” Tannahill said. “You camo yourself up, cover yourself up with whatever you can find and sit along the shore of the lake with a couple dozen decoys out there until you see them flying over. You get out your duck call and call them in. Then, right when they come in thinking they’re going to get a nice little meal or resting area, you kill them.”
Tannahill, a former Olathe East standout, has become a master of this routine. He says his brothers handle most of the shooting, while he is in charge of the duck call.
“I’m the better caller,” Tannahill said. “I call them in and get them there. They finish the deal.”
Tannahill says his grandfather turned him onto hunting, and he started taking it seriously when he got to K-State and met former offensive lineman Kaleb Drinkgern, another avid duck hunter. Drinkgern took Tannahill out with him one Sunday morning when Tannahill was a freshman, and he has been going back ever since.
Tannahill now regularly goes hunting with his brothers and friends, often returning with a pickup truck filled with ducks. When the trips go exceptionally well, he posts pictures of his trophies on Twitter and Facebook.
In between trips, he hopes for bad weather that will attract more ducks to the area.
“Last year was terrible,” Tannahill said. “No rain.”
Still, he went hunting every chance he had.
That sets him apart from most college football players, who would do just about anything to avoid waking up at 4 a.m. the morning after playing in a physically-draining game. Tannahill rarely sleeps in. His love for hunting is so strong that he is sometimes back in Manhattan with a handful ducks before most of his teammates have awakened for the day.
After victories, the trips feel like celebrations. After defeats, they are a good way to vent frustration.
“I try to get out every week in season,” Tannahill said. “Every once in a while, we set the alarms and they go off at 4 in the morning and you press snooze and you never wake up again. We miss some weekends, but we make most of them.”
Tannahill carries that dedication over to the football field.
Though he isn’t the biggest or fastest tight end in the Big 12, he knows how to block and get open. He has always been a smart player, but he also understands his limitations. So he pushed himself in the weight room leading up to the start of his senior season.
He wanted to improve physically, so his football knowledge could take over. The way he sees it, if he has comparable athletic skills with the defender lining up across from him, he is going to win.
“There is nothing quite like having the feeling of beating a guy man-to-man,” Tannahill said. “I like going against a dude that is bigger than me and way better than me physically, but I beat him because of technique. That’s what I try to do.”
Tannahill has caught four passes for 84 yards this season, and has shown the ability to get open across the middle as an outlet for quarterback Collin Klein. Coming into the year, he had caught 19 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns.
His improvement and work ethic have been noticeable.
“I think a lot of our players look to him,” K-State football coach Bill Snyder said. “He accomplishes a great deal, because he has a good mind about what he does and he is a pretty good athlete.”
Tannahill hopes to continue helping the Wildcats as much as he can. Whether they need him to lead, block or catch passes, he is ready.
This is where his main focus lies. When the season is over, his life will change forever.
“This is my last year to be wild,” Tannahill said. “Then I get to go the real world and do boring stuff.”
He might be able to hunt more often after his eligibility runs out, but his favorite hobby won’t feel the same when it’s not preceded by his favorite sport.
Football offers a thrill duck hunting can’t.
“There is no feeling better than catching a touchdown at home in the corner in front of the student section,” Tannahill said. “That’s just an awesome feeling.”