Ed Orgeron was an assistant at LSU when Travis Etienne’s recruitment began, and the once under-the-radar running back was not out of sight, out of mind for the Bayou Bengals.
“Travis kept on coming up, kept on coming up,” Orgeron said during Tuesday’s national championship game teleconference. “But one reason or another, we never offered him a scholarship, and then after I became interim coach, we had a couple of players that we had been recruiting for a while. We thought we were going to get them, and we thought, if we offered someone else, we may lose them. Then we got shut out.”
Etienne, a Jennings, Louisiana, native, decided in late 2016 that he wanted to play for Clemson and co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach Tony Elliott. He's gone on to be one of the most decorated running backs in Clemson history, something that Orgeron is reminded of quite often and something he’ll have to deal with in the national title game on Jan. 13 in New Orleans.
“Every time I watch, every time I heard about Clemson play or every time I've seen him having success, I'm sick to my stomach,” Orgeron said. “Obviously, we like our running backs. We've got great running backs here, but we wanted Travis Etienne at the end, but it was too little, too late.”
Orgeron, who took over as LSU’s interim coach when Les Miles was fired during the 2016 season, did offer Etienne a scholarship late in the process, and even had an in-home visit with the recruit.
“He had already made up his mind,” Orgeron recalled.
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Etienne has gone on to rush for 3,960 yards in three years at Clemson. He needs just seven yards against LSU on Jan. 13 to pass Raymond Priester and become the school’s all-time leading rusher in yards.
Etienne, a two-time ACC Player of the Year, has already set the school and conference records for career touchdowns rushing (55) and total (61). He’s rushed for 1,536 yards and scored 22 touchdowns as a junior this season.
“Something that I think we should have done a better job of, we should have recruited him at an earlier age, like we do all our great Louisiana backs, and keep them in state,” Orgeron said. “He's the one that got away.”
However, it’s not like LSU’s current backfield is lacking. Clyde Edwards-Helaire has had a fantastic season, rushing for 1,304 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior. He’s also caught 50 passes for 399 yards and one TD.
Edwards-Helaire was hampered by a hamstring injury leading up to LSU’s 63-28 win over Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl. He ran just twice for 14 yards before being pulled when the game got out of hand.
Etienne totaled 134 yards and scored three touchdowns in Clemson’s 29-23 victory over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl and is returning to his home state for a chance at back-to-back national championships.