In the market for a running back after the de-commitment of Cordarrian Richardson in December, Clemson offered Jennings (La.) four-star running back Travis Etienne on Jan. 12, less than a month before national signing day. Two weeks later, he committed to Clemson over childhood favorite and in-state LSU. Six days after that, he signed with Clemson.
In a whirlwind of events down the stretch of the 2017 recruiting cycle, Clemson pulled off a feat not just any program can, landing a recruit from LSU’s backyard that the SEC’s Tigers wanted and doing so at the eleventh hour.
But Clemson, with its appealing culture, renowned brand and 2016 national title to boot, isn’t just any program.
“The biggest thing with our program that has changed over the last five or six years is just the reach of our brand,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said on national signing day. “People know Clemson, and young players, they want to come and check it out. They want to come see Clemson. The thing we’ve always known is when people come visit Clemson, usually they’re going to like it.”
So, the first step for Clemson in beating out LSU for Etienne was getting him on campus. Clemson did that on Jan. 20, hosting him and his parents for an official visit.
It was Etienne’s first trip to Clemson. He hasn’t seen a Clemson game in-person, so the first time he will experience the atmosphere in Death Valley will be as part of the team.
But Etienne met people involved with the program and saw everything he needed on the visit to pull the trigger on his commitment six days later.
“That just is proof of the impact that the culture is for these families when they come in here and for the people that are here that surround this program,” Clemson recruiting coordinator Brandon Streeter said on signing day, reflecting on the addition of Etienne. “Unfortunately it was so late, but they get here and they spend a whole weekend with you, they see what this is about. You can feel it when they get here and sense that they’re a perfect fit.”
With what Clemson had to overcome geographically and temporally, Etienne serves as the most prevalent example of the power that Clemson’s culture and brand possesses to date, in recruiting especially. But Etienne isn’t the only example.
Last year, following the decisions of Mackensie Alexander, T.J. Green and Jayron Kearse to depart for the NFL after the national championship game, Clemson found itself looking to sign three defensive backs, three weeks before signing day, after initially not planning to take any DBs in the 2016 class.
The Tigers were able to do it, signing Isaiah Simmons, K’Von Wallace and Trayvon Mullen. The first time Swinney spoke to Simmons was after the season, and he hadn’t even heard of Wallace until after the season.
“Not that we want that to happen and you want to recruit them at the last minute,” Streeter said, “but obviously we have our guys that we feel are still out there that haven’t made a decision yet that we feel could be a great fit. So, we go get those guys.”
As far as Etienne, Clemson is certainly glad to have him. Without him, the Tigers would have just three scholarship running backs on the roster next season.
But thanks to the strength of the Paw, things worked out perfectly for Clemson.
“We got one of the best running backs in the country, and really didn’t know him until 10 days ago,” Swinney said on signing day. “This is a young man that had offers all over the country and could have gone anywhere, really, and ended up coming to Clemson. I just think that really speaks highly of the strength of the paw.”
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