CLEMSON— The Clemson football program has had a bevy of talented running backs don the orange and white and carry the ball in their storied history. But one may stand out among the rest—current Tiger and rising junior Travis Etienne.
Etienne enters the 2019 campaign as the reigning ACC Player of the Year. In his sophomore campaign in 2018, the All-America selection shattered Clemson records in rushing yards (1,658), rushing touchdowns (24) and total touchdowns (26). He became only the second Clemson running back ever to be named a Doak Walker Award finalist, joining Clemson legend C.J. Spiller (2009).
But the scary thing for opponents hoping to contain him this season is that he has yet to reach his potential.
“He's still got a lot of room before he hits his ceiling,” running backs coach and co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “First you'll start physically. He's made some progress, put on some good weight. He really hasn't started to fill out. If you look at him, he doesn't look like a typical running back from the top up. From the bottom down he does. He's going to continue to mature upper body-wise, put on some more good weight to help him be more physical, a stronger runner.”
Elliott also believes that another year in the Tigers’ program will help Etienne grasp the intricacies of their blocking along the offensive line and pass protection—the thing that kept him off the field at times in key passing situations in his first two seasons.
“Better understanding of the schemes,” Elliott said. “The more reps he gets with the different schemes that we run, he's going to be able to develop more patience, to be able to use his blocking a little bit better in pass protection, just continue to increase his knowledge, to be able to anticipate a little bit better so that he can beat guys to the point of attack and give himself more of advantage, as opposed to being at a disadvantage being late.
“He's very dynamic right now, a special talent. But he and I both know there's more in that tank that we got to continue to figure out what are the buttons I got to push to help him grow, make sure that I'm giving him good instruction to help him develop the way he needs to develop.”
However, the benefit of playing running back for a team like the Tigers is that Etienne will never be forced to carry the load by himself.
Even after putting up record-breaking numbers in his first two seasons, there are two other running backs that have proven themselves at various times for the Tigers—rising senior Tavien Feaster and rising sophomore Lyn-J Dixon.
“I'm big on the unit, so obviously Travis gets a lot of the recognition right now because of the statistical numbers he's put up this year,” Elliott said. “At the end of the day we're a unit. We do everything together. It doesn't matter who is out there. There's a certain standard of performance that we have.
“We understand that, we believe we're the heartbeat of the team. If we don't go, the team doesn't go. Again, our roles are going to vary each game depending on the defensive game plan. We have to be the heartbeat of the team. For a hundred snaps we'll protect the quarterback so we can be successful. If we have to run the ball for a hundred snaps, we'll run the ball.”