CLEMSON—Clemson running back Travis Etienne has already established himself as one for the best running backs in the history of the Tiger program, but that has not stopped him from working to get better—especially in the passing game.
"My route-running, catching the ball out of the backfield," Etienne said. "I feel like I didn't do much of that my freshman and sophomore years. So really trying to expand on that."
But it is not only on the receiving end of the game where Etienne is anxious to show that he has improved, it is also in the pass protection part of the game.
For all of Etienne's ability, through his first two seasons with the Tigers, Etienne was somewhat of a liability in pass protection, causing the coaching staff to turn to veteran's Adam Choice and Tavien Feaster when the team reached a passing situation.
But with Choice now in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks and Feaster having traded in his orange and purple uniform for the garnet and black of the South Carolina Gamecocks, it is time for Etienne to show that he has developed an all-around game that can keep him on the field even more this season.
"Oh my god, it's like totally different now than my freshman year," Etienne said. "It's crazy watching film from my freshman year and I'm like, man, I didn't know I was that bad. I definitely have gotten much better.
"It's a testament to coach Elliott how he works on that with us and the patience he's had with me, because I did a lot of things worse than the freshmen that we have now. Just the patience he had with me, he was the right coach for the job."
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).
However, Etienne believes that at least one of the two true freshmen running backs currently on campus could be poised for bigger things than even he has experienced.
"Mikey (Dukes) has a great mindset," Etienne said. "He's a quick learner and he picks up it really fast. He's not afraid to ask questions and I kind of like that about him. On the field, he's got a quick wiggle about him which reminds me of Alvin (Kamara), like the moves that he makes. Him being able to catch the ball just so naturally out of the backfield.
"Chez (Mellusi) is more of a power back. He wants to put his head down and run somebody over. That's just his mindset. He has great hands too."
The role of leading these young and extremely talented freshman no longer falls on the shoulders of Choice and Feaster. Instead, Etienne is now the person that the other backs look to for guidance and leadership in the running back room.
It is a job that he is embracing, according to Etienne.
"Travis is such a good young man that he doesn’t want to ruffle any feathers," Elliott said. "He doesn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I think that for the most part he kind of just stayed in the background. He let Adam Choice be the leader of the group, and then when Tavien was here he was going to let Tavien serve in that role. But now that Tavien’s gone he’s really embraced his goal as a leader.
"I’ve seen a renewed sense of urgency and more consistency in his mindset. He says every day is a good day to have a great day, where it used to be, ‘Travis what kind of day are we going to have?’ Some days would be coach it’s going to be a good day. Some days would be a great day. But now every day he wants to come in with a mindset of really taking advantage of his opportunity. He’s really embracing the fact that he’s a role model to these young backs. And Travis is the kind of guy he doesn’t like the spotlight. He doesn’t like the drama. He doesn’t like all the stuff that comes with his success. But now I think he’s really embracing it and understands that it’s his responsibility and he’s responding the right way."