Despite what happened in the Superdome on Friday night — when Clemson’s season came to an end with a 49-28 loss to Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans — Travis Etienne does not regret the decision he made last January to forgo the 2020 NFL Draft and return to Clemson for his senior season.
Aside from winning another national championship, the star running back believes he accomplished what he set out to by coming back for one last year with the Tigers, and he enjoyed the ride along the way, even while having to cope with the challenges presented by COVID-19.
“I feel that I came back and did what I really want to do, besides tonight,” Etienne said after the Sugar Bowl. “It didn’t go the way that we wanted it to, or I wanted it to. So, outside of that, it was an amazing year, an amazing experience, even with COVID. Just the guys that I have around me, I was able to just continue to fight and just find joy throughout all the hard patches and stuff with COVID. So, I’m forever grateful.”
Although he rushed for only 32 yards on 10 carries against the Buckeyes in Friday’s game, Etienne gained 137 all-purpose yards — including 64 receiving yards, 41 kickoff return yards and 32 rushing yards — and scored on a 3-yard touchdown run in the first quarter to break Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins’ ACC record for career points (466 from 2009-12).
Etienne concluded his senior campaign having scored a touchdown of any kind in 46 of his 55 career games, adding to his FBS record for most career games scoring a touchdown.
The first-team All-American (AP and ESPN) finished the 2020 season with 914 yards rushing and 14 rushing touchdowns on 168 carries (5.4 yards per carry) to go with 588 receiving yards and two receiving scores on 48 receptions, the most catches by a running back in a single season in school history.
Not only did Etienne take another step in his development as a player on the field while boosting his draft stock, but he also graduated from college and feels he continued to grow as a person off the field in his final year at Clemson as well.
“It meant a lot for me to come back,” he said. “I’m forever grateful. I got my degree, and I just matured as a man and just continued to grow as a man off the field and on the field. I feel like I improved myself as an all-around back, and I can play any down.”
Etienne came to Clemson in 2017 as a relatively unheralded recruit from Jennings, Louisiana, but leaves as the ACC’s all-time leading rusher who is now tied for fourth in FBS history with 78 career total touchdowns.
Looking back on the day of January 26, 2017 — when Etienne committed to Clemson over LSU and declared he would play at “the real Death Valley” — it was, in his mind, the perfect choice.
“Best decision I could have ever made as an 18-year-old, and I’m forever grateful and thankful,” he said. “Best decision I could have made, and I just want to thank God because I was an 18-year-old kid just venturing off trying to lead my own way.”