In the last 12 months, few players improved at their craft more than Travis Etienne.
Not only did the Clemson running back get better at running the football, which was bad enough for a defense, but he improved as a receiver out of the backfield and in his ability to block and read defenses as well.
“I just feel like, as a player, I’ve grown. In football, you’re always learning new things, tip and little tricks just to be better,” Etienne said recently. “So, I feel like my IQ has grown more because there’s always room for improvement.”
Perhaps the Fiesta Bowl was the best example of how much Etienne has improved. Though he was held to a season-low 36 yards rushing, he was a big factor in the Tigers’ win over Ohio State. He came out of the backfield to catch three passes for 98 yards, including two that went for touchdowns. One of those was a 34-yard catch-and-run for the game-winning score with 1:49 to play.
“The little details just mean a lot more to me now,” Etienne said. “I focus on the little things, and maybe – like [earlier in the year] I was taking things for granted. But now I’m just focused on each and every play. I’m just playing to my full potential every play, and I feel like, as a person, I just keep making growth in my spirit and everything to come in. Just trying to become a man and I’m just trying to figure things out and learn who I am and my purpose in why I’m here.”
Etienne decided in January he still had a few more things to figure out in college. Instead of turning professional and putting his name into the hat for the NFL Draft, he decided to return to Clemson for his senior season.
On Wednesday, he will begin spring practice with the rest of the Tigers at the Poe Indoor Practice Facility in Clemson.
Earlier this month, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney indicated, despite all of his success, Etienne received a second-round grade from the NFL’s Draft Advisory Board. The Jennings, Louisiana native had a very specific list of things he needed to get better at in order to move up to first-round status before next year’s draft.
“It is pretty nitpicky if you ask me… I know there are other great running backs out there, but he is pretty special. We have talked about those things,” Swinney said. “I am not going to get into all the things that were reported because it is pretty detailed. But from a big picture standpoint, he just needs to continue to be consistent and continue to be a complete player in every aspect of that.
“I think he has done that, now he just has to stay the course.”
With Etienne back, it means the Tigers get the school’s all-time rushing leader back for one more season. Etienne has already rushed for 4,038 yards in his career and he is in reach of breaking just about every ACC record for a running back. He already owns the conference record for career rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns.
Etienne already owns just about every Clemson rushing record in the book. The 5-10, 210-pound running back is just 565 yards shy of breaking the ACC’s all-time rushing record and 795 yards short of becoming the all-time leader in yards from scrimmage.
In his first three seasons, Etienne averaged 1,346 yards per season. If he matches his season average, it would him put him near 5,400 career rushing yards. That would shatter Ted Brown’s all-time ACC record of 4,602 yards which he set from 1975-’78.
Spring practice is just around the corner. Get your official Clemson gear right here!