Travian Robertson stood at the fence, looked out at the field, thought about football and thought about life. The local high school team was holding practice, running drills, and as he watched, he wondered: Do I still love this game?
For a long time, he didn’t. The former Gamecock defensive end, former Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle poured every bit of himself into football, all 6 feet, 4 inches, 302 pounds — but when the Washington Redskins waived him before the start of the 2015 season, his love for the game deflated overnight.
“Once I was done playing, I didn’t want no part about it,” he says now. “My wife was like, ‘Hey, you know, we got a game on. You don’t want to watch?’ I’m like, ‘No. I’m going to watch Netflix.’ I was just tired of it. Then two years go by, and those walls started closing in on me.”
Except meanwhile, the onetime Gamecock captain was quietly turning things over. Sometimes, when he was alone, he’d dig out his notes from his playing days as he tried to reconcile his past with his future. “I kept all those notes, everything I did playing — I kept them in a tote,” he says. “And I would go back and look and think about what I want to do.”
Then he saw those high school kids practicing, and the two-year football blackout ended as quickly as it began: “I just stood on the fence, and I got that feeling again. It was like, ‘This is what I want to do. This is what I’m meant to do.’ God was basically telling me I was supposed to coach.”
Seven years later, Robertson is back at his alma mater, the Gamecocks’ new defensive line coach under defensive coordinator Clayton White. He’s psyched for Sandstorm, ready to win. He made a few stops along the way — Albany State, Georgia State, Tulane — but those coaching jobs were just preparation for the job at South Carolina, the job he dreamed about for a very long time.
Which is not to say he wasn’t already successful. In his three seasons at Georgia State, the Panthers’ defense logged 94 sacks, including a school-record 38 sacks in 2021. As defensive line coach at Tulane, he helped the Green Wave beat Southern Cal in the 2023 Cotton Bowl and land their first-ever American Athletic Conference title.
He had reason to stay put, but he had a bigger reason to come home: He grew up in Laurinburg, North Carolina, close to the South Carolina state line, and wanted to be closer to family — including his Gamecock family. The voice of former defensive line coach Brad Lawing, who passed away in June, echoed at the back of his mind.
“Coach Lawing was a big part of me coming here the first time,” says Robertson. “When he was recruiting me, he told me, ‘Hey, scratch everything you did in high school. This is the place where you’re going to meet your wife. This is the place where you’re going to meet your best man.’”
And sure enough, Robertson met South Carolina track star Kettiany Clarke as an undergrad and they got married on the Horseshoe. Defensive end Byron McKnight was his best man. Lawing was there, too, a forever presence in his life. When Robertson mentions his mentor, he leans in. You hear the gratitude in his voice.
“Coach Lawing was at my wedding. I’ve got a picture of Coach Lawing holding my son at my graduation,” he says. “If it wasn’t for coaches pouring into me the way he did, and all my other coaches, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. So I thought if I ever get the opportunity, I would give back plus more.”
He emphasizes winning — “I hate to lose,” he says — and he has a reputation for intensity: in practice, in the locker room, on the sideline, on the field. But what matters most to Robertson is the long game, life beyond Xs and Os.
“I want to retire doing this, and hopefully it’s here,” he says. “I had a guy ask me when I got the job, ‘If Georgia was to hire you right now, would you take it?’ I was like, ‘H no, I’m not taking it! This is my home. This is home.’”