Dabo Swinney laughs every time he sees or reads where someone thinks a high school player could jump straight from high school to the NFL.
“It is such lack of understanding and a total disrespect for what it takes to play at that level,” Clemson’s head football coach said. “These are grown men playing at the highest level. Football is such a game of knowledge. The physical aspect, and you can have some guys that physically look like they can step into an NFL locker room. Very few, but you can have a few in high school. But the knowledge, the technique, the fundamentals, it is incredible. The amount of development that has to take place to give you a chance. I don’t care how talented you are.”
When Swinney first saw Travis Etienne, he saw talent.
“Here is a kid that came in here and he could flat out run the ball. Give him the ball. That is what he did. He ran,” Swinney said.
But in today’s NFL, running with the football is just part of what a running back has to do. Running backs in today’s game only run the ball 15 to 20 times a game, if that, so they are required to do a little more. To be an NFL running back, you have to catch the football, have a good route tree and more importantly be able to read defenses.
Etienne, who leads the ACC in yards from scrimmage, came to Clemson has an option-attack running back. When his career is over later this year, the two-time ACC Player of the Year will leave it as a pro-style running back.
“But now he is a complete player at his position. That has come through putting the work in, the commit, working hard on his weaknesses and being coachable,” Swinney said. “Now, as I have said many times, he is a Swiss Army Knife. There is nothing he can’t do at his position. He is a complete player. The way we have had to use him has changed everything for him as far as his confidence and what he is going to bring at the next level.”
Though Etienne holds the ACC’s all-time record for career rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns and scoring by a non-kicker, he just passed C.J. Spiller’s single season record at Clemson for most receptions and receiving yards. Spiller had 36 receptions for 503 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games back in 2009.
In just nine games thus far this year, Etienne has already hauled in 40 passes for 511 yards and two touchdowns.
“I mean, he just broke C.J. Spiller’s single-season receiving record. If you would have told me Travis Etienne, the one I saw as a freshman, was going to break Spiller’s receiving records, I would have never believed that. So, it is amazing,” Swinney said. “That is what I love about football. It is a developmental sport and if you put the work in and you are committed, you are going to get better. This extra year has really, really helped him. Maturity wise, skill wise, you name it. All across the board.”
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