NEW ORLEANS – Clemson was third in line to recruit Travis Etienne after winning a national championship over Alabama last January and somehow managed to land one of the nation’s most dynamic running backs.
The Louisiana native had already received offers from Tennessee and his hometown team LSU. The ability to snatch a top player from the jaws of the ‘Bayou Bengals’ is a credit to the brand of the Tiger paw and the coaches who recruited him.
Since Etienne arrived on the Clemson campus this fall he has done nothing but impress on the way to cementing himself as an elite running back.
However, the road to securing Etienne’s signature was anything but easy.
At the Clemson offensive press conference in advance of Monday’s Sugar Bowl, co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliot recalled how he convinced Etienne to be a Clemson Tiger.
Elliot departed for Jennings, La. a few days after Clemson won the national championship in Tampa and when his plane landed discovered the airport could not provide a rental car for the Tiger coach.
“I don’t know if that was by design they knew a Clemson plane was about to land so they couldn’t provide a rental car,” said Elliot. “His coach had to come pick me up from the airport and when I got there Tennessee and LSU were already there.”
After winning a national championship you might think Clemson would jump to the front of the list of a lot of recruits and in some instances, that is the case but other prospects require more ground work.
“That’s not enough to walk in with a Tiger paw and say hey Clemson is here,” said Elliot. “We have to sell our product a certain way to give the young men an option of something else to think about,” he said.
At the same time the Clemson brand is at an all-time high with success across the athletic department that bleeds into academics and admissions as well.
During the early signing period, it was easy to see the expansion of the Tiger paw as Clemson inked the top player from five states, South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio, snatching players from the reach of Georgia, Florida State, and Ohio State.
Despite mounting odds Elliot’s meeting with Etienne and his family in Jennings that day worked. Clemson offered the running back on January 12, he committed two weeks later, and signed six days after committing to the Tigers.
It did not take a lot to sell Etienne on why he should move to South Carolina to continue his football career, all he needed was authenticity.
“He gave me the perspective of the program,” said Etienne. “He didn’t really have to say much aside from that I should come check it out and that I’ll love it and that’s exactly what happened,” he said.
Fast forward to less than a year after receiving an offer from Clmson and Etienne is having arguably the best freshman season in program history. He leads the team in rushing with 744 yards and has the most rushing touchdowns ever by a Tiger freshman with 13 three more than CJ Spiller’s previous record of 10.
Now the true freshman, averaging 7.2 yards per carry, is gearing up for a return home playing in the Superdome on New Year’s Day for a shot at a national championship.
Elliot believes destiny put Etienne in a Clemson uniform and that “it’s just something that was meant to be.”