On the heels of its national championship last season, Clemson pulled off a rare feat when it beat out LSU for the commitment of a prospect from Louisiana whom the in-state program wanted.
That prospect is running back Travis Etienne, who committed to the ACC’s Tigers over the SEC’s Tigers in late January and signed with Clemson just six days later.
A native of Jennings, La., Etienne grew up an LSU fan. His two favorite football players are former LSU running back Leonard Fournette and current LSU running back Derrius Guice. So yeah, his decision to spurn the home-state school in favor of Clemson wasn’t an easy one for him to make.
“It was very close,” Etienne said. “Closer than you could imagine. It was like a little edge. But I’m glad I chose to come here.”
Clemson made a full-court press for Etienne’s services after offering him in January. Four days after Clemson extended the offer, head coach Dabo Swinney paid him a visit to his home. The following weekend, the Tigers hosted him for an official visit and made a profound impression during it.
LSU also went in-home with Etienne and was scheduled to get an official visit from him as well, but after his trip to Clemson, the national top-125 prospect was ready to announce his decision and never made the visit to Baton Rouge.
“Just coming here and just seeing it for the first time, I fell in love with the people first off, then the facility really helped,” Etienne said of the Clemson visit. “Looking into it when I got back home, the culture and just seeing how they’ve done in recent years with the running backs and the offense as a whole, and the head coach was an offensive player… So just looking at that, Clemson really sold me.”
The aforementioned visit was Etienne’s only one to Clemson as a recruit. The first time he experienced a game in Death Valley, he was playing in it.
Not only did he play in second-ranked Clemson’s season opener versus Kent State on Sept. 2, but he led the team in rushing with 81 yards and also scored a touchdown in his first career game. After not playing in Clemson’s home win over Auburn the following week, Etienne again led the Tigers in rushing at then-No. 14 Louisville on Saturday with 98 yards.
The freshman flashed his dynamic ability and put the finishing touches on Clemson’s 47-21 victory with an 81-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter — the longest run by any Tiger since C.J. Spiller had an 83-yard run against Auburn in the 2007 Chic-fil-A Bowl. It was also the longest run by a Clemson freshman since Bobby Gage went 88 yards against Presbyterian in 1945.
“We all know how great of a player he was,” Etienne said of Spiller, one of the most decorated running backs in Clemson history. “For me to be able to go out there and do something like that, it’s just an unbelievable, humbling feeling just to be mentioned in the same sentence with C.J. Spiller.”
Playing on the national stage, Etienne showed the world what his teammates and coaches have seen since August camp.
Etienne, a former track star at Jennings High who has been clocked at a 4.37 in the 40-yard dash, had six runs of 80 or more yards against Clemson’s first-team defense in fall camp. Though his teammates may have been surprised at first by his explosiveness, they and everyone else who saw him Saturday knows what he is capable of now.
“I came here late, I committed late, and no one really knew who I was,” Etienne said. “They just knew of me, and they didn’t really know what to expect. Me coming in and doing that against our defense — I mean I hate inside run against that line because they’re always on you, but it makes you better — of course they were surprised, but they kind of expect it now and hold me to another standard.”
When Etienne committed, he announced that he would be taking his talents to the “real Death Valley.”
Clemson fans are glad he calls their Death Valley home instead of LSU’s, and he certainly is, too.
“I have to put this one over that because I play here,” Etienne said. “They’re both great atmospheres. It’s tough, the crowd noise, the people there. It’s an unbelievable experience. Running down the hill, touching the rock — that puts it over the top.”