Breakdowns

Travis Toivonen on his Winding Road to the NFL

In June, Travis Toivonen was preparing for his personal trainer license, a year-and-a-half removed from his days as a wide receiver at the University of North Dakota. Playing in the NFL was still a goal, but few would have considered it a realistic one. That’s when he got a call from the Seattle Seahawks. Today, Toivonen is on the Seahawks’ 90-man roster and will be with the team when training camp opens later this month.

Travis shared his story with the 33rd Team:

Every high school football player dreams of playing in the NFL. Growing up a Vikings fan in Red Wing, Minn., I was no different. Problem is, colleges weren’t exactly knocking down my door. In fact, I got just one college offer. That was the University of North Dakota, a Division I FCS school.

I ended up starting four years there. I had a pretty successful college career and I thought I had a good chance to play at the next level. I know I wasn’t going to get drafted, but I liked my chances to get an opportunity at a camp, have a chance to go out there and prove myself.

Then Covid hit.

Things started shutting down about two weeks before my pro day. Scouts got pulled off the road and that was it. Pro day canceled. For somebody like me – didn’t really have incredible college film, wasn’t going to run a 4.4 (probably closer to 4.7), it was really just a tough time. I got no chances, no looks. My agent talked to a few NFL teams and they just weren’t interested.

I thought, I can’t give up now without getting a chance to play in the NFL. So I was going to do everything I could over the next year and just give myself the best chance to get on an NFL team in 2021. I was pretty much working out, doing whatever I could to stay ready.

Watch: Travis Toivonen’s NFL journey

Then I heard about this Fan Controlled Football league. It was the first-ever season of that, and I had a friend who signed with that league. So I flew down to Atlanta to try out — just as an opportunity to keep playing football. I made the cut, and played in the Fan Controlled Football league from January to March of 2021. I played with some recognizable names. Josh Gordon, who was with the Seahawks two seasons ago, was a fellow receiver. Our quarterback was Johnny Manziel.

I was a late addition to the league, and they had me rated as the top receiver after like two weeks. And that was against some guys who have had pro experience, whether it was the NFL or the XFL. I went out there and they really didn’t have anyone that could stop me, so that just built up my confidence. It was really a matter of time for me before I would get that chance to prove myself.

From there, I was able to sign with IFA, an agency here in Minnesota. They represent people like Adam Thielen and Rashod Bateman, who just recently got drafted. In fact, because they represent Bateman, they got me into the University of Minnesota pro day in April, It was a huge opportunity for me to prove to scouts what I had. And with Bateman expected to be a first-round pick, there were 30 NFL teams in attendance.

That Minnesota pro day was the best way for me to get recognized. Those teams were there to scout a wide receiver, right?

But after that pro day, I really didn’t hear anything. It was almost two months and I heard nothing. My agency was reaching out to some teams but there was really no interest.

I can go to bed at night with peace of mind if I was at least able to get a shot. If at that point I wasn’t good enough, then at least I could close that chapter in my life. But it was so tough for me. I knew I had the talent to play at the next level. It was gonna be another year where nothing happened.

Then, out of the blue, my agents called and said, “We just spoke to Seattle. They want to fly you out for a workout. “ I thought, Where is this coming from? I was shaking for like three hours! I could not believe that happened.

What came next was a whirlwind. Someone with the Seahawks called me on a Thursday. Three days later, I was on a plane to Seattle. The next day, I signed a bunch of papers and then they put me through some testing.

They had a group of receivers there with one spot to fill. We did some drills and ran routes – I felt pretty good. During my pro day at Minnesota, I think I let nerves get the best of me. But up in Seattle, I was really confident in my abilities and I really performed well. I spoke to Coach Carroll after, and he said he was impressed with what I did.

The next day, the Seahawks told me they were adding me to their 90-man roster.

It was probably the craziest three or four days of my life. I went from thinking nobody was going to give me a chance this year – demoralizing – to flying out there and signing with an NFL team – my dream come true.

I love football. Football is my life, and I couldn’t imagine giving it up.

Now that I’ve accomplished the goal of making Seattle’s 90-man roster, I can’t be satisfied. My new goal is to make the 53-man roster and be playing on Sundays, on an active roster. This opportunity here rejuvenates that dream. Regardless of what happens, I’m going to keep pushing, keep giving myself the best chance to play on Sundays. That’s always been the goal and I can’t give up now.

I’ve always believed that if you want something bad enough, you’ll make it happen. If you think you can do it, there’s not really anything that can get in the way. If you have a goal, if you have a dream, then definitely chase it. It’s hard to give up on something that means that much. If you want it, just go get it.

That’s what Adam Thielen did. His story isn’t lost on me – undrafted guy from Minnesota, just like me. Small school. And now that we’re repped by the same agency, we’ve been working out together the last few weeks. He’s definitely someone that I’ve look up to. And now, to have a chance to make it in the NFL like him, I couldn’t ask for anything else.

To make that happen, I’ve got to work harder than I ever have. Now that I’ve gotten this far, I have no intention of giving up.