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BATON ROUGE, La. – Travin Dural gets teased by LSU teammates and coaches about the lack of muscle definition around his abdomen.
The top receiver for the eighth-ranked Tigers smiles at the mention of such ribbings, volunteering without a trace of defensiveness that he's even been called fat.
Of course, the lanky, 6-foot-2 Dural isn't so much fat as he is fast. And he's been burning defensive backs for big gains this season.
"By just his body type, you'd never know how fast he is; he has a little gut," said LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White, who covers Dural in practice. "Everybody says speed comes from your abs and your core, but you'd never know that by him."
Making Dural even tougher to stop, White said, is the poker face and disciplined body language with which he runs every route, making it virtually impossible to anticipate what he is going to do.
"He's just sneaky," White said. "One of the best receivers that I've covered."
Usually, Dural even suppresses the instinct to widen his eyes when a pass comes his way, something defensive backs often look for to help them time plays on the ball.
"It was a long process to get out of that habit," Dural said. "I've been working on getting everything to look the same whether it's a run or a pass, whether it's a deep ball or a hitch for 5 yards."
Through three games, Dural has caught 12 passes for 370 yards and four touchdowns, including scoring plays of 80 yards against Wisconsin and 94 yards against Sam Houston State. He is averaging about 31 yards per catch.
On Saturday night, Mississippi State will be tasked with trying to contain Dural as the Tigers and Bulldogs open Southeastern Conference play in Death Valley.
"We've definitely got to play good technique and have good eyes and not get caught up in the run game because he can make plays and beat us deep," Mississippi State cornerback Taveze Calhoun said.
Dural has run 40 yards in less than 4.4 seconds. He figures his speed comes from his father, Troy Clement, who ran track at Louisiana-Lafayette and was also a receiver and return man on the football team.
Dural takes particular pride in his technique, which he has spent more than two years refining since arriving at LSU in 2012. After choosing to stay close to his native Breaux Bridge over an offer to play at Alabama, he had hoped to make immediate contributions to the Tigers.
His debut was delayed by a left knee injury, however, and he wound up taking a redshirt year after surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He played in 12 games as a redshirt freshman in 2013, but was overshadowed by juniors Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., who each had more than 1,000 yards receiving last season.
Dural said seeing overwhelming majority of passes go to Landry and Beckham "was hard, but I had to respect that those two guys are great football players and great individuals, and I learned a lot from them."
"Having to sit behind those guys also showed me that even though you're good, there's still someone out there better and you have put in a lot of work to keep getting better."
Dural had only seven catches last season for 145 yards, though one grab was for a memorable 49-yard touchdown that lifted LSU to a comeback victory over Arkansas.
When Landry and Beckham turned pro last winter, Dural suddenly became the most experienced player at his position as a redshirt sophomore. That meant learning to be a leader, which he described as an adjustment for a relatively quiet, easygoing guy like him. Now, he said, he's comfortable speaking up when fellow receivers make mistakes, or volunteering advice and encouragement as needed.
At the very least, he figures he can lead by example, be it through his work ethic or the way he seeks to control his emotions to promote consistency and focus.
"I try to stay the same in every situation, whether it's good times or bad," Dural said. "I try to be relaxed and comfortable in the most uncomfortable situations."
Dural's philosophy is to avoid trying to do too much, which he equates to selfishness and a lack of trust in one's teammates. He hopes that by simply doing his job well, he'll help LSU win, and put up some impressive numbers in the process.
"I'm just trying to continue to work hard as if I'm still that third receiver trying to get some playing time," Dural said. "I'm not getting complacent. I'm trying to, if at all possible, break receiving records at LSU. ... I'm trying to set my goals high, so if I get close, I can still be proud of what I did."