It has been 15 years since he donned the Red and White, blasted through defenses, eluded tacklers, bolted into the end zone for touchdown after touchdown after touchdown after touchdown, and ran his way into the record books as one of the most prolific rushers in NCAA football history.
And on Saturday, Sept. 6, Miami Football will retire Travis Prentice’s No. 41 as one of its all-time greats alongside Ben Roethlisberger’s No. 7, Bob Hitchens’ No. 40 and John Pont’s No. 42.
WHAT’S IN A NUMBER?
It is by no coincidence that no other Miami player has worn No. 41 since Touchdown Travis played his final game for the RedHawks against Buffalo on Nov. 20, 1999. And is likely by no coincidence that Prentice was tabbed to wear No. 41, which was also the number of another great Miami running back.
“I didn’t get to decide on 41,” said Prentice, “When I was in high school, I wore No. 25. Going into Miami, Deland McCullough already had that number, so that was a no-go. They just gave me 41, and I thought that was the oddest number to get. I didn’t know any star or pro running back who had that number. It kind of felt like I had the number of a fullback or a linebacker.”
During a redshirt freshman year, Prentice didn’t think much about having the number, figuring he’d eventually switch. He didn’t know it at the time, but Prentice had been given the college number of then-head coach Randy Walker, who was a standout running back at Miami in his own right on some of the best teams in program history in the mid-1970s.
“I didn’t know it was Coach Walker’s number until halfway through my freshman year. I was in Millett Hall and there’s a picture of him (in the Hall of Fame lobby). I saw that and was like, ‘Who is that guy in 41?’ And then I realized it was Coach Walker. I thought, ‘He’s got that number too?’ And I was like … okay! I wondered if he purposely gave me that number, and you know what, I never, ever asked him. I just assumed that maybe he thought I was going to be good. Maybe he saw something in me. I don’t know, but he just gave me that number.”
Although they never talked about it, Coach Walker would make some side comments in practice about having “his” number, but it was others on staff who let Prentice know just how special having that number was.
“I heard from other coaches that Coach Walker wasn’t just going to let anybody wear his number,” remarked Prentice.
If there was an expectation that came with wearing No. 41, it is fair to say Prentice lived up to it and then some. He finished his RedHawk career setting 37 Miami and eight major NCAA records, and he continues to own 22 Miami, five MAC and four NCAA records to this day.
Among Prentice’s gaudy numbers are 5,596 rushing yards, 73 rushing touchdowns, 78 total touchdowns, three seasons rushing for 1,500 yards or more, 468 career points, and 862 consecutive carries without losing a fumble. Carrying the ball 1,138 times during his four-year collegiate career, Prentice lost fumbles just twice.
A three-time Doak Walker semifinalist, Prentice went on to earn All-America honors at Miami. He was a three-time first-team All-MAC running back for the RedHawks, while earning the MAC’s Offensive Player of the Year as well as its Vern Smith Most Valuable Player awards in 1998.
ONE RECORD-BREAKING DAY
While there are several memorable moments from Prentice’s career, one record-breaking day is one that will be remembered for years to come.
Miami was coming off one of its worst statistical performances in three years, gaining just 56 rushing yards on 26 carries as a team, with Prentice accounting for 54 of those yards in a 52-42 loss to Cincinnati at Yager Stadium on October 30, 1999. As the RedHawks prepared for Akron the following week, Prentice described an added sense of urgency.
“I remember (running back coach) Ron Johnson and I got into a little disagreement. The whole week he was just pushing my buttons, and I think I was pushing his buttons. We were both frustrated, because Miami was known as a running team at the time, and we had never been shut out like that in rushing and then to lose on top of it.
“Mostly we were just upset at the situation, but we didn’t have anyone else to take it out on except each other,” Prentice continued. “That week, practice was a little more intense and harder. The offensive line was getting reprimanded too.”
As the team prepared to battle the Zips at Yager Stadium on Nov. 6, 1999, Prentice described the play that eventually etched his name in the record books.
“That week, we drew up this one play we knew we could run on them. We ran it a couple of times in practice and it worked. But sometimes when you run things in practice they work, but you know it’s not going to work all the time in the game. In this game, we kept running the same play and they keep going for it. It was a simple sweep play. I fake one way and then (quarterback) Mike Bath would pitch me the ball and I’d go the other way. It was just a simple counter sweep play.
“I remember going into halftime, I wasn’t counting, but Coach Johnson said I had about 200 yards rushing. And I was like ‘wow.’ I usually have 200 yards in a whole game. I thought he’d probably take me out in the third quarter, but the game was still close so they had to keep me in. We had other successful running plays, but we kept running this same play, and it just kept working.
“On (the record-breaking touchdown), and I think we needed a first down, Bath just pitched me the ball and it was wide open. I remember thinking I just cannot believe this. All I have to do is just run. Run, run, run as fast as you can. I didn’t look for anyone else. I was just running. Every block was there. It was wide open, like you could drive a truck through the hole. It was just … touchdown.”
That 72-yard touchdown run eclipsed Ricky Williams’ one-year old NCAA career records for points scored and touchdowns. That, however, was not Prentice’s longest rushing touchdown of his career or even the game. His first touchdown against the Zips was a 75-yard scamper in the second quarter, the longest touchdown run of his career. Prentice finished the day with 376 yards rushing, a then-MAC record and sixth highest single-game total in NCAA FBS history. He also totaled a school-record 411 all-purpose yards as the RedHawks redeemed themselves with a 32-23 win against Akron.
“The NCAA record was great to break, but it was just coming back from what we had done the week before,” explained Prentice. “Our running game was so bad the week before, then to turn it around and get like (398) yards rushing as a team. That really doesn’t happen. It was just confirmation that we really were good, we just have to play. We had gotten outplayed against Cincinnati the week before. But this week it was totally different.
“I won’t lie,” he added with a laugh. “It was good to be on ESPN too.”
FROM START TO FINISH
Prentice did not start playing football until his freshman year in high school and had a rather unconventional path to becoming a running back.
“I didn’t really know a lot about football and the positions except through some football cards I collected,” explained Prentice. “I had never played organized football before in my life. I didn’t know anything else but running back. I had football trading cards of Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith. I had never even seen them play. I just read the back of their football cards. I thought to myself, ‘So this guy looks like what I think football is. He’s running with the ball and scoring touchdowns. What position does he play? Running back. Okay that’s what I want to play.’”
On the varsity roster as a freshman, Prentice quickly cracked the starting lineup about three or four games into the year. But his football journey was far from over. Recruited by schools such as Northwestern, Louisville, Cincinnati, Ball State and Northern Illinois, Prentice chose Miami University and the rest is history. Literally.
Among the memorable games of his career, Prentice recalls wins against North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati. “Those other teams didn’t really think we had a chance, and sometimes they underestimated us.”
He also recalls the summer of 1998.
“Everybody was there and we just really ended up bonding as a team,” said Prentice. “We worked harder than we ever had in the weight room and on our game. That was the year we ended up going 10-1. I can remember that year. There were a couple of games where we were down maybe two scores, but because we had bonded so well, we all believed in each other and really believed we could come back.”
Prentice gives much credit to his position coach at Miami, Ron Johnson, who he said taught life lessons both on and off the field that Prentice and his teammates talk about to this day.
“Coach Ron Johnson was the biggest influence on me both on and off the field,” said Prentice. “If anyone wants to know anything about me at Miami, he was the reason why Travis Prentice was Travis Prentice. If left alone, you want to do what other people do on TV and switch the ball or do a lot of juke moves and make it look pretty, but his whole thing was keep your nose down and get the hard yards. All that adds up. He was definitely the biggest influence on me as a running back.”
Prentice also has great respect for Coach Walker and the preparation and determination he taught as Miami took down several highly-touted non-conference opponents over Prentice’s career.
“I can’t say enough about Coach Walker. We had a good relationship, but it was more of a shake and a nod,” remarked Prentice. “He used to make us run, and we didn’t understand why he would make us run after practice. We had just run all practice. What that was going to do was make us the best conditioned team in the fourth quarter.
“We’d see this time and time again, especially when we played those non-conference games,” Prentice continued. “I remember playing North Carolina and they had these huge guys who were NFL prospects. In the fourth quarter, we beat them down. I specifically remember their defensive linemen in the universal hunched-over, hands-on-your-knees position, basically out of breath. Yes, we were tired, but we had a little more because we were always running after practice. So the fourth quarter was always something big to us. Coach Walker made sure we were going to be the best conditioned team on the field.
“Everyone who played for him will remember you won the game. We beat a lot of teams because we could, and we worked hard,” Prentice added. “If we didn’t play hard, he might make us run gassers on Sunday night. But it was for a purpose. He was trying to build us up. He was trying to make us not accept being weak. You need to go out and give your best effort. If someone came out and beat us because they were better than us, that’s fine. But don’t let it be because you were tired and because you were making mistakes. Let it be because they were just so much better than you. You just have to accept that. You can’t accept losing if you’re just making mistakes and tired. That’s stuff you can control.”
After Miami, Prentice was selected in the third round of the National Football League draft by the Cleveland Browns and played three seasons in the NFL. He spent time in the mortgage industry, eventually owning his own mortgage company before deciding to go back to school. Prentice recently earned his master’s degree in occupational therapy and is pursuing a career in the health care industry. Among the friends and family who will be with him this weekend are his wife, Shavon, and their daughter, Jayla (8), and son, Jerrin (5).
Although Miami is retiring Prentice’s number for his amazing accomplishments on the gridiron, he is quick to share the recognition.
“Getting my number retired is something that is just a great honor,” remarked Prentice. “That’s the number I wore that is being displayed, but it’s an honor I share with everyone else who blocked for me and who played with me. They had a hand in it too. If you played defense, you had a hand in getting me the ball back. If you played offensive line, you had a hand in blocking. If you played wide receiver, you had a hand in blocking. Everyone had a hand in it. They put my number up, but this is for everybody I played with.”
Miami will retire Travis Prentice’s No. 41 at halftime of its football game against Eastern Kentucky on Saturday, Sept. 6, which kicks off at 3:30 p.m. Don’t miss out on this momentous occasion and purchase your ticket today by calling (513) 529-4295 or clicking here.