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Fastest Tiger: Who Can Challenge Belt-Holder Etienne?

Clemson running back Travis Etienne bested Isaiah Simmons last year as fastest Clemson player, but receiver Frank Ladson could prove to be a worthy challenger in 2020.

One of the most intriguing rivalries involving Clemson last year occurred within the team.

Running back Travis Etienne and linebacker Isaiah Simmons had a few speed battles that resulted in an eye-popping video.

Simmons, who weighs nearly 240 pounds, was seen running stride for stride with Etienne, who weighs 210 pounds and is one of the most explosive players in all of college football.

According to Etienne, he eventually won the competition.

“He did beat me, but that was the third time we ran,” Etienne said. “The first two times I won. The third time he got me. I had the overall fastest time.”

This speaks to two things. First, Simmons is a freak. Most people know that by now. He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, and that’s about to make him an early first-round pick in Thursday’s NFL draft.

Still, for a linebacker who can mask as a safety, that’s crazy fast.

“Coming in my freshman year, everybody claimed (Simmons) was the fastest guy,” Etienne said. “That's why we got into a little battle out there, an 80-yard sprint. Everybody said he was the fastest and no one really knew who I was so I challenged him and came out with a little win. I keep that above his head. I knew if I raced him again it would be a lot closer.”

Secondly, with Simmons gone, is Etienne undisputedly holding the belt for fastest Tiger?

Clemson’s all-time leading rusher has a solid case.

He said the last time he ran a laser-timed 40 was in high school, and Etienne posted a 4.38, a hair under Simmons’ combine number.

He said he hasn’t run the 40 since, and he’ll have to wait until next February's NFL combine to get an official time for the world to see.

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But what everyone already knows is he’s a burner. The first big run of his career came against Louisville in 2017, when he took a late-game handoff 81 yards. It led to ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit to call Clemson’s offensive weapons “an embarrassment of riches.”

Etienne owns an embarrassment of speed, but is there a worthy challenger to try and dethrone the champ?

“I’d challenge anybody,” Clemson receiver Frank Ladson said.

Frank Ladson

Frank Ladson

The speedy rising sophomore wants his shot. Coaches have raved about his speed and ability, and fellow receiver Amari Rodgers called Ladson the fastest receiver on the team.

Ladson said he was last timed at 4.46 or 4.49 when he first got to Clemson. He couldn’t remember which one, but he’s probably shaved some time off of that.

“I really wanted to challenge Isaiah last year, honestly,” Ladson said. “I want to challenge...Travis and (running back) Lyn-J (Dixon).”

Ladson had 123 yards on nine catches and three touchdowns as a freshman last fall. He’s poised to flash his speed more in 2020 when he’s expected to be a breakout player.

He said he’s always known he was fast, and at South Dade (Miami, Fla.) High School, he simply ran past his competition.

That won’t be as easy to do against the likes of Etienne and Dixon. There’s also another competitor in the battle of speed, sophomore running back Che Melusi, but Ladson isn’t taking him seriously.

“Lyn-J still talks to me about it, and Chez,” Ladson said. “I don’t think Chez is even in the conversation. He’s fast. He’s got real good long speed, but to go against me and he’s talking about racing 50 yards, I feel like I’ll get that (win) easily.”

Regardless, this is the type of rivalries teams need. There’s an innocence about simply defining the fastest person. It takes us back to playground days as kids.

And during these quarantine times, watching two college athletes go stride for stride sounds more entertaining than a game of H.O.R.S.E any day.