How Louisiana's Travis Etienne became Clemson's star RB

Amos Morale III
January 13, 2020 - 4:34 pm

As No. 1 LSU watched film to prepare for its national championship matchup with No. 3 Clemson, Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron’s stomach was likely in knots.

That was mainly from watching Clemson’s top running back and Louisiana native Travis Etienne rack up yards against his team’s opponents. 

“Every time I heard about Clemson play or every time I've seen him having success, I'm sick to my stomach,” Orgeron said.  “Obviously, we like our running backs.  We've got great running backs here, but we wanted Travis Etienne at the end, but it was too little, too late.”

Etienne ultimately became a Tiger — just not in Baton Rouge. And Orgeron still laments the one that got away.

“Travis kept on coming up, kept on coming up,” Orgeron said.  “But one reason or another, we never offered him a scholarship, and then after I became interim coach, we had a couple of players that we had been recruiting for a while. 

“We thought we were going to get them, and we thought, if we offered someone else, we may lose them.  Then we got shut out.  I offered Travis really late at interim.  I had a home visit with him, told him how much we wanted him, but it was too little, too late.  He had made up his mind already," said Coach O.

Etienne’s decision to attend Clemson was fortuitous for the South Carolina Tigers as he’s rushed for nearly 4,000 yards and averaged roughly 8 yards per carry through three seasons.

Landing the star running back, who rushed for 2,459 as a senior at Jennings, took some luck, Clemson co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Tony Elliott said.  “I was in a bind when I reached out to Travis,” he said.  “We had been down the road for a long time with another back.  Thought he was coming to Clemson, and then things fell apart.  Had another guy lined up; didn't know anything about Travis; that fell apart.  So I just made a call to a couple people.  They told me to check out Travis.” 

Elliott admitted, however, that his initial impression of Etienne wasn’t the greatest.

“He walks out, and if you ever look at Travis, he's kind of ten and two with his feet, if you watch him,” Elliott said.  “When you're a coach, and probably doesn't even matter, but you look at those things and I'm like, ‘Oh, my gosh.  Can this guy really run?  How is he going to change direction with his feet like that?’”

Elliott watched Etienne play basketball later that day and realized he’d found a special player.

“Watching this young man, just his fluidity on the basketball court, the ability to jump, his speed, his quickness…. He's proven me wrong, so I have to eat my words on that one.” 

Etienne said he was sold on Clemson after visiting the school’s campus.

“I found that I really loved it,” he said.  “It was a great place.  It just left an impression on me and my family.  I just knew I had to be there.”

He said he didn’t have any hard feelings about the way LSU recruited him, and said he feels the program has tried to rectify their mistake.

“They offered my little brother a scholarship,” Etienne said.  “Just want to do things differently.  My situation already happened.  Hopefully, they learned...and hopefully they just take care of my little brother.”

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