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A different dude: You shouldn't be surprised Etienne is returning to Clemson

January 18, 2020
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When the confetti that poured onto the Superdome turf reflected the purple and gold of LSU Monday night, Travis Etienne, for the second time in as many trips to his home state for a collegiate football game, had to watch as the opponent walked off the field victorious. One could only imagine what was going through his mind.

After the game, Tony Elliott told us that he asked his star running back if he “left everything out on the field?”

“At the end of the day, that's really all you can ask,” Elliott noted.

In the locker room, Etienne didn’t look like a guy who was done with his career. He wasn’t making the rounds to thank all his teammates one final time. He looked normal. He looked like a junior running back, getting ready to make his way back to campus while preparing for his last collegiate season. He even took a moment to joke with a teammate about his missing shoe.

"He's the type of young man, and he'll weigh all the factors-- put them on the table, and he'll make the best decision that he believes is necessary for his future,” Elliott stated just after the title game.

"I think he's one of the top tier guys in the country. He plays a position where the longevity is not great. You really want to get as much money when you transition to the NFL on the front end because you're the least likely position to make a second contract."

Etienne’s road from Jennings, La., to Clemson University is well documented. His time in Tigertown has been monumental. He is Clemson’s all-time leading rusher, breaking the mark on a five-yard carry in the first quarter of Monday’s title game. Etienne’s 4,038 yards broke Raymond Priester’s Clemson record of 3,966. He also became the first 4,000-yard career rusher in Clemson history. 

Etienne is now just the third player in Clemson history to gain over 5,000 all-purpose yards joining C.J. Spiller and Sammy Watkins on that elite list. All of the records mentioned above were accomplished in three years while he averaged only 13 touches a game. 

© Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Travis Etienne celebrates a touchdown in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl win over Ohio State.

As explosive as Etienne’s been, the running back spot is a difficult one to gauge in the NFL, and many people expect this to be a talent-rich group, and Elliott seemed to agree.

"He's got a lot of things to think about, and this is a very deep class.” 

Before Etienne’s announcement, given the available facts, few people felt that he would be returning for his senior season. We asked Eric Mac Lain on Clemson Sports Talk’s two-hour daily radio show what the odds were that Clemson’s star back would return: “Zero.”

Mac Lain told us after Etienne’s press release that he was, “Shook. Literally mind blown,” over the decision.

With all the accolades, Etienne has little left to prove on the field. However, off the field, he’s once again showcased why he’s just a different dude.

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He’s cut from the same cloth that guys like C.J. Spiller, who back in 2009 decided to return for one final season at Clemson, shocking Tiger Nation.

Then, two years ago, Etienne watched his brothers on the defensive line: Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant, and Clelin Ferrell all walk off the Superdome field after a 24-6 loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoffs. Those guys didn’t know what their future would hold, but the three NFL prospects, much like Travis Etienne, decided that they hadn’t accomplished everything they’d set out to do at Clemson. They wanted one last run. They weren’t going to leave college football with the last field they played on littered with crimson and white confetti.

Their return sparked a 29 game winning streak, a 15-0 season, capped by a 44-16 beatdown of Alabama in the national championship game. 

Much like Wilkins, Bryant, and Ferrell, Etienne will have a chance to lead Clemson to another title. It would be the Tigers’ third in five seasons.

And while Clemson’s recruiting class is as deep and as talented as any we’ve ever seen, Friday night Dabo Swinney landed a more significant piece than any incoming superstar. When Spiller decided to return a decade ago, many people called him a “six-star” commit. Well, add a “six-star” prospect to this class as Etienne gives Clemson the top running back in 2020.

Etienne’s final season will give him a chance to add to his rushing yards record at Clemson and possibly overtake N.C. State Ted Brown’s ACC record of 4,602 rushing yards, a record that has been in place since 1978.

With another season of over 1,600 rushing yards, he could rewrite the record books for yards, touchdowns, yards per carry, etc. Etienne could even challenge to be considered one of the top running backs all-time in terms of numbers. But more importantly, for him, he will get his diploma as a Clemson graduate, setting a new standard for his family.

Etienne quoted Matthew 16:26 in his tweet to announce his return: “What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” 

That verse speaks volumes about his priorities, and as he put it, he’s “not done dreaming,” at Clemson.

By the way, next season, New Orleans is set to host the All-State Sugar Bowl on January 1, 2021, as part of the College Football Playoff semi-finals. It’s a long way off, but it will all be worth it if Etienne walks off of the field, in his home state, surrounded by orange, white, and purple confetti falling from the sky.

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A different dude: You shouldn't be surprised Etienne is returning to Clemson

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