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Wofford Clemson Football

Clemson's Travis Etienne (9) rushes during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Wofford, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

CLEMSON — Clemson running back Travis Etienne has been a special talent since he stepped onto campus, and it did not take head coach Dabo Swinney long to understand how special he is.

"He was kind of puny when he got here. Just not a very imposing guy," Swinney said. "He had big old braces on his teeth, and we thought that maybe he would redshirt or something. Then we get into camp, the first time we get into full pads, the very first day ... he broke a run and it was like, 'Wow!'

"Then for the rest of camp, it didn't matter what group he was with, he could have been with the threes, the twos, the ones ... every day he would break a run to the point where you are like, 'This is unbelievable.'"

While Swinney may have had a glimpse of just how explosive Etienne could be, he had no idea that a mere three seasons later, the now junior would achieve a couple of records that Swinney never thought anyone would touch.

"Today he broke James Davis' rushing touchdown record (47) at Clemson, and we all know that James had a pretty good career here, and he played four years," Swinney said.

Not only did he break Davis' record, he tied former Tiger C.J. Spillers' record of 51 career touchdowns and also became the first Tiger running back to have three 200-plus-yard rushing games in a single season.

"It is really great, but it is not just because of me. It is because of the team, the guys I have around me, the receivers that I have," Etienne said. "The great receivers are willing to do it all, and Trevor too. I am thankful for all those guys to be out there. I would not be in this position to have all these records and accomplishments. I would like to think that.

“I knew about the James Davis one, but about the other ones, no, not really. It is special to be amongst those guys. I would like to thank God first, and my teammates because if it was not for them, I would not be here.”

While Etienne would prefer to deflect the attention away from himself and turn the spotlight onto his teammates, for co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Tony Elliott, the junior deserves every bit of the attention for what he has accomplished.

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“I’m just really proud of him. He’s such a humble guy. I’m not a big fan of people deserving things, but if there’s anyone who deserves this, it’s Travis," Elliott said. "He always deflects the attention, making it about his offensive line and his teammates. He’s got the ability to do it and it’s refreshing to see a young man who puts the work in and is able to achieve what he can.”

However, Elliott quickly changed his remarks to clarify one thing — there was nothing that was deserved by Etienne. Everything was earned by the work he put in.

“Often we feel like we deserve more than we really work to earn, so my word is earn," Elliott said. "Go out and earn it, because life isn’t fair and you’re not always going to get what you feel like you deserve. At the end of the day, you will get what you earn, whatever work you put in, you will get the appropriate reward. It may not be what you want, but at the end of the day, you can feel good about it.”

But if you are going to earn the good and the accolades, you are also going to earn the criticism when you screw up — which is exactly what Etienne earned six weeks ago following his worst game of the season at North Carolina.

Even though he did not like being challenged for his play by Swinney, Etienne has responded and, in return, been the catalyst to an offense that is currently setting records every time it takes the field.

"Usually when you have your foot in somebody's rear, that's not comfortable. So yeah, he didn't like that. Most everybody likes a little bit of sugar, but he needed it, and he got it. He's had a great year obviously, but he really had a bad game," Swinney said. "It was a long two weeks. Unfortunate for him, we had an open date. Great players like to be challenged and they respond. Average players pout. He responded. Haven't had to do that much with Travis, he's unbelievable. But he needed it.

"I mean that's four weeks in a row that he's played amazing. Sometimes you just have to refocus a little bit too, it's a long season. These are young people and it's a grind. He's been a great leader too, and that's been fun to see."

The scary thing is even with the level at which Etienne is currently playing, he believes he can get better.

“Oh, most definitely. I feel like I can always improve and get better each and every game," Etienne said. "Just working on the little details helps each and every week by watching film to see what I really messed up on."

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Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat. He also serves as a co-host of Solid Orange, seen at 11 p.m. Wednesdays on WACH FOX 57 in Columbia. He is editor of www.ClemsonMaven.io

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