When he was a kid – growing up first in Houston and then on a lake outside Williamsburg, Mich., a small crossroads in the northern part of the state – he was a real “daredevil” his mom said.
“Of our three boys, Adam was the most daring,” Lori Trautman said. “He was so wiry, so edgy, He’d literally fly around on his bike, always jumping curbs. I called him The Flying Squirrel.”
And nothing seemed to change when Adam moved from dry land to water.
Lori’s still a water skier of note – she’s also a lifelong downhill skier and was a college basketball player – and she and husband Rod’s children followed suit as athletes. When he was younger, Adam showed some panache with a knee board.
“He was quite a knee boarder,” Rod said. “His big goal back then was for us to pull him in close to shore and he’d let go of the rope and see if he could stop at the very edge of the beach. That’s after first doing a 180-degree spin.”
Lori laughed: “He was pretty shifty twirling around.”
Those all were Flying Squirrel traits: Derring-do. Knowing no bounds. Doing things your way.
And now, all these years later, little has changed except the name.
The Flying Squirrel became a record-setting Dayton Flyer and, by this time next week, he’ll be headed to a team in the NFL.
As a 6-foot-5, 255-pound All-American tight end – who graduated in December with an electrical engineering degree and All Academic honors from the Pioneer Football League – Trautman is UD’s all-time career leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches.
And he’s about to become the school’s first NFL draft pick in 43 years, a span that goes back to 1977 when Bill Westbeld, an offensive lineman originally from Carroll High School, was chosen in the 11th round by the Seattle Seahawks.
He was cut before the season began so the last Flyers to actually play in a regular season NFL game were a pair of offensive linemen — Bob DeMarco, with the Los Angeles Rams Mike Wilson with the Kansas City Chiefs — in 1975.
Trautman – rated one of the top two tight ends in this year’s draft – is expected to be picked anywhere from the second to the fourth round.
Since he switched from quarterback to tight end as a redshirt freshman at UD, Trautman is still learning the position.
“The (Minnesota) Vikings tight ends coach called me earlier this year and said, ‘You know what I like about him? He hasn’t reached his full potential yet,’” UD coach Rick Chamberlin said. “He said some guys at the big schools have reached their peak already and aren’t going to improve, but Adam will just keep getting better and better.”
Representatives of all 32 NFL teams came to watch Trautman at UD practices and games this past season and they were further impressed by his showing at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this year.
This kind of scrutiny usually is reserved for players coming out of Power 5 schools, but tapping into that old Flying Squirrel persona, Trautman’s let nothing define him, nothing hold him back.
When he was a slender junior quarterback at little Elk Rapids High School, his team had just 18 players and he went both ways. Dreaming of playing Division I college football, he sent entreaties to 30 schools and didn’t get one response.
“Ghosted,” is the way he described their snub.
It was between his junior and senior year that he decided to make himself more noticeable.
With his parents’ help, he ate numerous meals a day and supplemented his diet, not only with protein shakes, but with what he calls “burger bites.”
Rod said his son was eating 6,000 to 7,000 “good calories a day, lots of red meat and good pastas.”
Daily breakfast – six eggs, bagel, meat and a protein shake – was followed by a big lunch at school, two dinners, including one right before bed, and, of course, those burger bites.
“I’d go to Sam’s Club and get one of those 18-packs of one-third pound frozen burgers – hockey pucks I called them – and cook them up every Sunday,” Rod said. “I’d put them in the fridge and Adam would eat one for breakfast every day and then we’d cut up two more into bite-size and put them in a Ziploc bag he took to school.
“They’d be cold, but they gradually warmed up to room temperature in is back pack and he’d eat those bites during the school day.”
As Adam explained: “Most kids at school knew me and my brothers were football crazy so that didn’t surprise them. But when students who didn’t know me saw me eating the cold burgers they’d go: ‘What the hell is that?!!”
The answer came when he went to a University of Toledo camp and weighed in.
“I had weighed 176 my junior season, but seven months later I was at 215,” he said. “I’d gained 39 pounds and because I was working out all the time, I was faster and more explosive. I was a different player.”
His senior season the team had just 22 players and though he was a standout, big colleges still ignored him. Michigan State did offer him a preferred walk-on spot and Cornell, a non-scholarship program, made an offer, as did Harvard later on.
In between Trautman had made a pitch to UD.
His older brother Andrew had committed to the Flyers two years earlier, but then changed his mind and went to NCAA Division II Missouri University of Science and Technology.
The Trautman family had liked the football program, the campus and especially the academic offerings at UD and Adam said he was sold when he saw “110 guys – none on scholarship – all playing for each other.”
After red-shirting his first season, he told then offensive coordinator Eric Evans that he’d like to switch from quarterback to tight end because he thought he could add a dimension the Flyers didn’t have.
If Evans was skeptical, that changed one of the first times Trautman went out for a pass. The ball was overthrown, he dove and caught it and UD had a new tight end who just kept getting bigger and stronger and harder to stop.
While he had several huge games as a senior, some NFL scouts weren’t sure what he’d do against Division I talent.
He proved himself during practices at the Senior Bowl and again when he was compared to other tight ends at the combine.
Although six NFL teams had planned to come to UD in March to work Trautman out, all that was cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chamberlin said he’s been told that’s not a problem. Thanks to the Senior Bowl, the combine and last season, NFL folks have seen plenty of the Flyers’ tight end.
Another casualty of the pandemic has been Trautman’s planned draft party at Timothy’s on Brown Street next Saturday.
Instead, Rod and Lori came to Dayton a few weeks ago and self-quarantined. They plan to join Adam and his younger brother, Alec, a redshirt freshman linebacker with the Flyers, for a small family celebration at Adam’s house near campus.
They won’t be eating hamburgers.
‘He loves Dayton’
If he got is athleticism from his mom, Trautman said his against-the-odds drive came from his dad, who grew up on a hog farm 50 miles north of St Louis on the Mississippi River.
“He was super poor, but he worked on the farm and paid his own way through college and just never stopped,” Trautman said. “And that drive carried on down to me and my brothers.”
Rod further explained: “My dad turned over the hog operation to me and my brother when I was 10. Between that and loans and scholarships, we paid our way through school. I went to the University of Missouri and studied engineering and my brother went to med school.”
After living in Houston, the family moved to Michigan, where Lori grew up in Midland and played basketball at Albion College.
Just as he didn’t leave his small high school program for a bigger school to get more exposure, Adam said he never considered transferring from Dayton to raise his NFL profile.
He said he’d seen a player from Drake get drafted and figured he could do the same at UD. And besides, he felt indebted to Chamberlin and especially his teammates.
“He loves Dayton and everything about it,” Lori said.
“He got everything he dreamed of at Dayton,” Rod added.
He’s got an engineering degree and will be drafted into the NFL.
“Not many guys can say that,” Rod said.
Spotlight on the Flyers
Chamberlin was an All American linebacker with the Flyers in the mid-1970s and has been associated with the program since.
“In all my years at Dayton, Adam’s the one football player here that has had EVERYTHING to be a good NFL player,” Chamberlin said. “I’m talking about size and ability and football skills.
“When I was talking to the Vikings coach I said, ‘I think he’ll be a good NFL player.’ And he said, ‘Coach, he’ll be a good player for the next 10 years.’”
This will be quite a year for UD, which will also have Obi Toppin, the consensus college basketball player of the year, chosen in the first round of the NBA draft.
That kind of spotlight is paying dividends.
“We were recruiting a young guy out of Kansas this year,” Chamberlin said. “He’s a quarterback, a bigger kid, and we talked to him about playing tight end for us. And, of course, I related the story about Adam Trautman.
“I said, ‘Look, I’m not saying you’ll be an NFL draft pick someday – that’s up to you – but it is possible at Dayton.’
“And you know what? He’s coming here. He’s the first player we’ve ever had from Kansas since I’ve been here. That’s what Adam Trautman does for us.”
And the big tight end plans to do more:
“I’ll represent Dayton as well as I can, everywhere I go and in everything I do.
“I’m going to do everything I can to give it a good name.”
Whether he’s The Flying Squirrel or the Dayton Flyer, Adam Trautman makes everyone take notice.