Travis Etienne's decision to return to Clemson for his senior season this year caught many by surprise. But his reasoning for doing so made a lot of sense and it appears to have paid off for the ACC's all-time leading rusher.
Getting his degree was a primary focus but the talented sprinter from Jennings, La., also felt he could return in 2020 and improve from his draft stock to a solid first-round grade.
“I just felt like I could come back and improve that grade,” Etienne said in the spring. “I don’t have my degree. Coming back and going second round (in 2021), at least I’d have my degree. Leaving for the second round has never been a dream of mine. I feel like I can do so much better than that. The NFL is going to be there, so I wasn’t leaving with no second-round draft grade.”
It is safe to say he's done just that.
Etienne graduated from Clemson on Thursday and will take the field Saturday in pursuit of his fourth ACC championship. Back in a venue that he's thrived in over the last few seasons, the record-setting back looks to close out his career with three more wins which would give Etienne a second College Football Playoff Championship and fourth ACC Championship ring to the jewelry box.
All that is nice, but Etienne is proud to say he will soon own a degree.
"What a great accomplishment it is for me to graduate," Etienne said. "I'm definitely grateful for that. But at the end of the day, I have a game Saturday. So I'm going to enjoy Thursday and soak it all in and then be ready to get back locked in and get ready for the game."
Speaking of his athletic reasons for returning to Clemson this fall, Etienne said he felt he's developed into a more every-down running back. In addition to his improvements in pass protection, he's also emerged as a major threat catching the ball out of the backfield.
"I feel like I've helped myself a lot and proven that I'm an all-around back that can be on the field at any time. I'm more knowledgeable and matured a whole lot this year. I just feel much more complete than I was," Etienne said on Tuesday.
While Clemson's run game has stalled out as of late, Etienne and the offense are confident they are knocking on the door of being able to get rolling as the Tigers enter the championship phase and orange britches season.
"Just watching film and how we practice and even watching game film," he said. "It just looks like those little things that no one really sees that maybe we were off an inch or something like that. We just have to keep sticking to it and being who were are and it will take care of itself."