Dabo Swinney admitted he was not surprised by Travis Etienne’s decision to return to Clemson for his senior year.
The Tigers’ all-time leading rusher, who informed Clemson last month he was returning to school for his senior year, indicated to Swinney prior to the Fiesta Bowl he was leaning on coming back.
The Clemson head coach reported Wednesday Etienne received a second-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board prior to the Tigers’ trip to Phoenix, Arizona, where they beat Ohio State in the College Football Playoff Semifinals.
Wednesday was the first time Swinney spoke to the media since Etienne made his announcement on Jan. 17.
“Sometimes you have guys that see the bigger picture. Sometimes guys are patient and sometimes guys are not patient,” Swinney said. “Everybody is motivated by different factors and they have different dynamics in their lives and whatever. It is really unpredictable that way. So, I usually ask them where they are.”
So, when Swinney sat down with Etienne back in December, he asked the running back what he was thinking. Swinney knew what Etienne’s draft grade was and what the comments were, and he wanted to know where Etienne was at in the process.
“He said, ‘Honestly!’ And I was like, ‘Yeah!’ He said, ‘I am thinking about coming back, Coach!’ And I went, ‘Really!’ So, that surprised me a little bit because I felt like he was going to be more, ‘I really want to hear what you have to say before we get into it,” Swinney said. “But he was really kind of leaning [towards coming back] and I said, ‘Why is that?’ And he said why, and I said, ‘Okay, then we have a conversation we need to have. Here is the information and let’s talk about it and what it means and so forth.’
“So, I was not surprised after the [national championship] game that he said, ‘Hey! I am really coming back.’ He was pumped up to tell me.”
Etienne called Swinney, and his position coach Tony Elliott, and told them he was coming back after talking to his family in Louisiana following the national championship game.
“He was pumped up to tell me,” Swinney said. “He has enjoyed his time and, I think, that for him he got a second-round grade and if he leaves here as a second rounder next year, he will do cartwheels. He will have his degree and he will be a little more ready. He will feel complete.
“I just think leaving here early, for him, as a second rounder, I think he felt a little incomplete.”
With other top running backs turning pro such as Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins, Florida State’s Cam Akers, Boston College’s A.J. Dillon and Utah’s Zack Moss, Etienne would have been in a deep and talented class and there was no guaranteed he would have been a Day 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Etienne, who was named the ACC’s Player of the Year in 2018 and in 2019, became Clemson’s all-time rushing leader on a 5-yard carry in the first quarter against LSU, breaking Raymond Priester’s record for career rushing yards (3,966). Etienne has 4,038 career rushing yards. Priester held the record for 22 years at Clemson.
Etienne finished the LSU game with 78 yards, and in the process became the first 4,000-yard career rusher in Clemson history. He joined NC State’s Ted Brown, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, North Carolina’s Amos Lawrence, Maryland’s LaMont Jordan, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, Georgia Tech’s Robert Lavette, Wake Forest’s Chris Barclay and Boston College’s A.J. Dillon to become only the ninth 4,000-yard rusher in ACC history.
“I think he is the best back in the country, period! Obviously, I was pretty bias when it comes to that. But he has a great future ahead of him,” Swinney said. “I am excited about the fact he is back. He has been a great leader already and we got him for another nine more months or so. I do think that has a chance to have this pay off for him. It should be fun!
“It is nice to know he is back.”
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