Clemson’s star running back embraced his weaknesses, has worked tirelessly to get better
When Travis Etienne watches film from his freshman season at Clemson, he is amazed at how far he has come.
“I didn’t realize I was that bad,” the Heisman Trophy candidate said.
It’s not that Etienne was a bad running back. It’s just he did not do the other things very well that a Clemson running back is required to do.
“He’s embraced that if he wants to perform at the next level, he has to be a third-down type of guy from a pass protection standpoint and a receiving standpoint,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Tony Elliott said.
Clemson’s single season rushing holder did get better last year, but he knew he still had some work to do if he wanted to become the running back his coaches could count on. A lot of times in the Tigers’ run to the national championship, he was taken off the field on third down and replaced with more experienced and knowledgeable guys in former running backs Adam Choice and Tavien Feaster.
With what has happened the last two years, plus the fact guys like Lyn-J Dixon and Darien Rencher are nipping at his heels for playing time, Etienne became more focused in the spring and had better attention to detail in the running backs room. He carried that over into the summer workouts and now into fall camp.
“The way he has come in every day, I have seen a renewed sense of urgency and more consistency in his mindset that every day, and he is says it this way, he says ‘Today is a good day to have a great day,’” Elliott said. “It used to be with Travis, ‘What kind of day are we going to have, Travis?’ Some days it would be, ‘Coach, it is going to be a good day.’ Some days it would be a great day, but now every day he wants to come in with the mindset of really taking advantage of his opportunity.
“He is really embracing the fact that he is a role model to these young backs. Travis is the kind of guy that he does not like the spotlight. He does not like the limelight. He does not like all the stuff that comes with his success, but now I think he is really embracing it and understands the responsibility and he is responding in the right way.”
He is responding by becoming a more complete running back. By becoming a guy who can not only take a hand off 75-yards for a touchdown on the first play of the game, but can also stand tall in pass protection and pick up a blitzing linebacker, or sneak out of the backfield and catch a swing pass and turn into a first down or a big gain.
“Inside the A-gap, I can fit up with the linebackers now, and set my feet without getting blown back,” he said.
“I have built a lot of confidence catching balls everyday while working with the quarterbacks,” Etienne continued. “I have definitely overcome that, and I feel like I’m a lot better out of the backfield.”
And he feels a lot better watching himself on film.
“I definitely got much better and it’s a testament to Coach Elliott and how much patience he had with me.”