Not since C.J. Spiller in 2006 has a freshman running back been talked about in Clemson’s fall camp more than Travis Etienne.
There is always those moments when coaches will talk up the new players in camp, but usually they turn out to be just coach-speak in most instances. However, it is different with Etienne.
It seems like the coaching staff is almost holding back on its praise of the talented freshman the last few practices, as if to keep him a secret somehow or maybe to keep him humbled.
Following Saturday’s final stadium scrimmage of camp, Etienne was not even brought up in the school’s official release and head coach Dabo Swinney did not say much about the freshman’s performance. However his teammates had no issues bragging on the youngster from Jennings, La.
When asked what offensive player stood out to him on Saturday, defensive end Clelin Ferrell did not hesitate to bring up Etienne’s name.
“Travis, the running back, he stood out,” the 2017 Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP said. “He is pretty good. I like the way he played. When he got into the open field, it was hard to tackle him. A lot of it was our fault, but I feel like he did not make any mistakes.”
Tavien Feaster, who is battling with Etienne along with C.J. Fuller and Adam Choice for the starting job at running back, brought up the freshman on his own when talking about the competition.
“Travis, he is talented. He is really talented,” said Feaster, who had an 80-yard touchdown run in the scrimmage. “He is going full speed and he has really shined in this camp.”
Even the few boosters and former players, who have had the privilege of watching some of the Tigers’ two-stadium scrimmages, have come out raving by Etienne.
Running backs coach and co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott called Etienne a natural runner and said he is probably the best runner out of all the backs on the Tigers’ roster. He says the freshman has that one thing you can’t teach.
Feaster called Etienne “special.”
So who is this Travis Etienne? Is he the next great running back to come through Clemson? I know it is not fair to compare him to the likes of C.J. Spiller but it has been a while since the media has heard so much about a freshman running back by the players (offensive and defensive) and the coaches.
Granted, there are some things he has to work on. Elliott says he has to get better in his pass protection and things of that nature, but from everything we are hearing, the 5-foot-11, 210-pound back is not just doing everything else well, he has been doing it great.
Let me put it like this. When Spiller at Clemson, his pass protection was his biggest weakness, but he was so special at doing everything else, the coaches knew they had to get him on the field. In his rookie season, Spiller set a freshman record with 938 rushing yards and scored a record 10 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 19 passes for 210 yards that year and scored two more touchdowns, an electrifying 80-yard catch-and-run at Boston College and then that play against Georgia Tech that everyone is still talking about.
Remember, Spiller did all of that while sharing the backfield with James Davis, who rushed for 1,187 yards and scored 17 rushing touchdowns as well that season.
My point is this. Travis Etienne more than likely will not be the starter at running back this season, but do not be surprised to see the coaching staff find a way to get him on the field as often as they can. As I just pointed out above, the last time a freshman running back was talked about this much, they found a way to get him on the field.
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