Travis Etienne wants to leave a legacy as one of the all-time greats


by - Senior Writer -
Etienne wants to go out a winner in his senior season (Photo: John David Mercer / USATODAY)
Etienne wants to go out a winner in his senior season (Photo: John David Mercer / USATODAY)

CLEMSON – Defenders across the ACC understand what it takes to corral Clemson running back Travis Etienne. When you think he’s going right, he jukes left. When you think he’s going left, he leaves you grasping at air as he sticks his foot in the ground and sprints to the right. And then, when you least expect it, he runs straight ahead and bowls you over.

Welcome to the mercurial and fascinating world of the nation’s best running back, who never does what you think he’s going to do.

Etienne was supposed to talk to the media after practice last week but slipped past members of the sports information department and was in the locker room before anyone had time to blink. Etienne was on the schedule again for Monday night but was caught as he tried to sprint for the doors to the weight room.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to talk to the media, it’s just a game to the ever-smiling native of Jennings, La. Etienne walked over the assembled media and graciously answered question after question regarding his decision to turn down the money of the NFL.

As it turns out, he knew the day after Tigers’ loss to LSU in the National Championship that he wanted to return to Clemson. The decision was an easy one, and while pundits argued over the timing of an Etienne decision, he juked left and played video games.

“It wasn’t hard at all. I knew what I was going to do; I was just kind of milking the system, taking a break and giving my body a rest. I just kind of sat around, played (NBA) 2K20,” Etienne said. “My mom would ask me once a day if I was sure about my decision. I talked to my grandmother. Just kind of talked to different people to get insight. I just went home for the week, contemplated things. I sat down with my parents. Just thought about what we really thought mattered the most when it's all said and done with my playing career and football as a whole.”

It was while he was playing video games with a friend that some friendly advice provided clarity.

“He gave me some great advice. He was like, ‘whatever you did to make the decision to go to Clemson, use that same process,' and it just clicked right there. I knew what I needed to do, and that's coming back and getting my degree,” Etienne said.

Some might think Etienne doesn’t have anything left to prove on the collegiate level and the numbers bear that out. He enters 2020 as the Clemson and ACC career leader in rushing touchdowns (56), total touchdowns (60) and points by a non-kicker (372) and will open the 2020 season as the nation’s active leader in each category plus career rushing yards (4,038). Etienne was the back-to-back ACC Player of the Year in 2018 and 2019 who became the first running back to win the award in consecutive years since Mike Voight in 1975-76.

However, Etienne feels like there is more to do. He needs just 565 yards to become the ACC's all-time leader in yardage. He wants to be mentioned among the all-time greats.

“I'm trying to leave a legacy and just trying to be remembered forever,” he said. “I feel like coming back now gives me the chance to be one of the all-time greats here, not just in college football.”

Etienne’s freshman year ended with a loss to Alabama in the Superdome in New Orleans, he won a National Championship after his sophomore year, but once again saw his year end in his home state with the loss to LSU. He said he doesn’t want his career to end with the loss. He wants to be remembered for walking out a winner.

To do that, he knows there is work to do.

“I want to finish it off the right way with a win. I want to be better at special teams, continue to improve my craft, become a pro at my position to be able to teach the position to anyone on any level of football,” Etienne said. “(I want to) Improve my route running ability, being a threat with a deep ball now. Continue to master my craft and to be a threat with or without the ball. Just continue to get better at little things, and I feel if I just continue to work on those things, my overall game is going to improve, and that way I can be on the field at any time.”

He is also working on special teams and was spotted returning punts during Monday’s practice.

“Hopefully, I'll get a couple of opportunities to go out there, so what I can do on special teams that way I can show teams in the NFL that I can be a great special team player,” Etienne said. “I'm like sixth on the depth chart (at punt returner). I'm just out there getting reps trying to create that muscle memory, so even if they put me in, I'll be ready. Just trying to be able to play anywhere on the field and make myself more valuable by being able to be plugged in anywhere.”

Etienne received a second-round grade from the College Advisory Committee, and he said he thinks he can do better. Staying that extra year means he will earn his degree along the way.

“I just felt like I could come back and improve that grade. I don't have my degree, coming back, going second-round, at least I'll have my degree,” Etienne said. “Leaving for the second round has never been a dream of mine. I could do so much better than that, and the NFL is going to be there. I wasn't leaving with no second-round draft grade.”

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