CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson freshman Travis Etienne defied the wishes of many in his home state of Louisiana and chose the Tigers in South Carolina instead of lining up at LSU.
He defied the wishes of many LSU fans in his home state, but it looks like he made the right decision for him.
“Clemson really sold me,” Etienne said. “It was closer than you could imagine (with LSU). I’m just glad I came here.”
So are the defending national champions. Etienne leads Clemson in rushing with 292 yards and has shown flashes of being the Tigers most dynamic runner since former Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year C.J. Spiller.
Etienne will look to keep his run going when the second-ranked Tigers (4-0, 2-0 ACC) head to No. 12 Virginia Tech (4-0). It is Tech’s league opener.
Etienne’s 81-yard TD run at Louisville two weeks back silenced what had been a large, boisterous black-out crowd seeking to take down national champions two weeks ago. Etienne added a 50-yard scoring burst , the first of his two fourth-quarter touchdowns, to seal a tougher-than-expected 34-7 win over Boston College last week .
“You can’t deny what you saw,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “He runs like every play is the game-winning play in the Super Bowl?”
So why doesn’t Etienne, with just 23 carries and listed as fourth string, play more?
“I got the same question from my wife when I got home the other night,” joked co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott.
Tony Elliott, Clemson’s other offensive coordinator who also coaches running backs, said Etienne was largely an unknown quantity coming into camp. The freshman had much to learn about blocking and technique.
It didn’t take long for Etienne to show he could run.
Against Louisville, he bounced an inside run outside — “Coach Elliott said if you do that, you better make sure you’re right,” Etienne recalled, “so I broke a tackle and, hey, it happened.” And 81-yards later, he was in the end zone, capping the Tigers longest TD run in 10 years.
“He’s a big kid who can run through tackles and besides, once he runs into the secondary, then he has the ability with the speed to take it to the house,” Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said.
Etienne’s biggest move may have been spurning his home state Tigers.
He is from Jennings, Louisiana, about a 100 miles west of the LSU campus. Past and current LSU runners Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice are his favorite players. He attended several LSU games at the other Death Valley and everyone assumed him an easy get for the Bayou Bengals.
Everyone except Etienne. He fell in love with Clemson’s campus on his first visit. His parents were on board, urging him to block-out homestate talk and make the right decision for himself.
LSU fans were not as understanding.
“Outside my family, it was crazy,” Etienne said. “People saying all kind of things, calling me all kinds of names. I didn’t let it get to me because at the end of the day, it was my decision and they were not going to be on the field or in the classroom for me.”
Clemson couldn’t be happier with the early results, both on and off the field.
Tigers quarterback Kelly Bryant said Etienne brings a goofy, wide-eyed attitude to the offense, making everyone smile. After the Boston College game, Etienne was awarded a replica leather helmet that is given to the game MVP.
Etienne wasn’t sure what to do so when his teammates yelled, “Speech,” the gangly freshman gave one that brought a smile to everyone’s face, Bryant said.
“It’s just Travis for you,” Bryant said. “All the hard work he put in is really coming into play.”