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Travis Etienne, Legend

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Etienne was so amazing, so consistently, that college football struggled to keep up; pundits and playmakers alike.

Simpy put, Travis Etienne is one of the best and greatest players in college football history.

The numbers are absolutely unfathomable: 4,952 rushing yards and 70 rushing touchdowns at 7.2 yards per carry, 1,155 receiving yards and eight receiving scores at 11.3 yards per catch, 706 kick return yards, 51 wins, four ACC Championships, four College Football Playoff appearances and a national title. Etienne even completed a 23-yard pass, returned a punt 44 yards and recorded three tackles. Individually and collectively, he was a superstar on four superteams as Clemson went 27-0 in games where Etienne rushed for at least 80 yards.

Though his career just ended, the only way to evalulate Etienne's All-American tenure is through an all-time perspective. Remarkably, he has the 7th-most rushing touchdowns ever with 70; you can take out his senior season and Etienne would still rank in the career top 25. Etienne's 6,107 yards from scrimmage rank in the top 15. He ranks 28th with just under 5,000 rushing yards; only three players in front of him averaged within one yard of Etienne's per-carry average, however, with none of them within even a half-yard of his work rate.

Etienne is the lone rusher in history's top 30 with a minimum of seven yards per carry. He is also the only player in the game's top 50 with at least 1,100 yards receiving. All of that is in addition to him being in the top ten in rushing touchdowns.

There simply hasn't been a major college running back as productive and proficient as Etienne.

Just for point of reference, to help frame this snapshot of greatness, Etienne averaged more yards per rush than Barry Sanders did per run and per catch, averaged nearly two more yards per carry than Herschel Walker and rushed for 27 more touchdowns than Bo Jackson. Etienne has more receiving yards than Sanders, Walker, Jackson and Darren McFadden combined. Looking back at the history of the running back position, these are his peers of perspective.

Even in a shortened senior year where some cited a dip in performance, Etienne still helped lead his team to the College Football Playoff and finished tied for 7th nationally with 14 rushing touchdowns, ranked 6th in the country with 1,502 yards from scrimmage and became one of just four Power Five players this millennium with 900 rushing yards, 580 receiving yards and 15 total scores in a single season, joining Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey and DeMarco Murray, all NFL All-Pros.

As a true freshman, Etienne rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown in his ACC debut against Louisville. Not satisfied, he promptly went for 113 yards and two scores versus Boston College the very next week. Etienne ran for 13 total touchdowns in 2017, scoring once every eight times he ran the ball, reaching the endzone twice against rival Florida State, once versus rival South Carolina and once more in triumph over Miami in the conference championship game. On just 107 attempts, Etienne had four carries of 50 yards or more.

Year two, for Etienne, is on the very short list for best season by a running back ever. He rushed for 1,658 yards and an FBS-best 24 touchdowns at 8.13 yards per carry, the lone season with those minimums in the history of the sport. Though his postseason run was one for the ages, Etienne rushed for 203 yards and three scores in a comeback win over Syracuse where Trevor Lawrence got hurt and Kelly Bryant had left the team. Etienne ultimately led Clemson to a 15-0 national championship, helping the Tigers score 74 total points in routs of banner programs Notre Dame and Alabama in the College Football Playoff.

Etienne opened his junior year with 205 yards and three touchdowns against Georgia Tech and never looked back. He ended with 1,614 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns, all at 7.8 yards per carry. He scored at least once in a dozen consecutive games to complete the season. In terms of his total production, Etienne also added a new element to his game in 2018, catching 37 passes for 432 yards and four touchdowns. His 2,046 yards from scrimmage were good for 5th nationally, with his 8.4 yards per play the best amongst the top nine finishers.

This fall saw Etienne further expand his play as a receiver as he caught 48 passes for 588 yards, the most of any running back in the country, and two scores. In a win over Boston College, Etienne set a new career rushing record for the ACC and set a new national mark for total games with a touchdown scored. He, with 124 yards and a touchdown on just ten carries in a rematch with Notre Dame, also topped the 100-yard rushing mark in a third straight conference championship game.

For all of the statistics and records, Etienne's most impressive totals are his wins; Clemson won over 50 games during his career. Etienne, in four years, lost in the regular season just twice. He responded to the first defeat by winning 35 of his next 36 games overall, a national title included. The second loss was avenged just over a month later. Somehow, Etienne also played in a schedule's worth of postseason games, taking the field ten times in the ACC Championship Game and College Football Playoff alone. He went 7-3.

During Etienne's time with the Tigers, Clemson went an astonishing 51-5.

With Etienne, the accolades are almost too many to name. They also aren't nearly enough. Somehow, Etienne didn't get the credit he deserved during his remarkable, record-setting career. Part of the magic of a player like Etienne is that he made the unrealistic his casual weekly standard. The game took Etienne for granted as his fludity and grace made it all seem so normal. Etienne made everything look easy. His success, like a kickoff time or post-game show, was simply part of the schedule. 

Etienne was so amazing, so consistently, that college football struggled to keep up; pundits and playmakers alike.

In addition to leading on the field, Etienne led off the field as well. This is a player who used his platform to benefit others. He helped further powerful social justice movements at Clemson through advocacy, actions which resonated well beyond just sports. Etienne was also an All-ACC Academic honoree, is now a college graduate and has long been an active volunteer in the local community.

More than just an accomplished student-athlete, Etienne is a role model. His legacy is one that lasts.

It goes without saying that Etienne will be remembered as part of the overall Clemson dynasty and half of the heralded backfield tandem of he and quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the likely number one overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and rightfully so. What a program. What a duo. Their success is undoubtedly shared. That said, Etienne also deserves to be individually celebrated as one of the top running backs of all-time. Any conversation about the GOAT has to include this Tiger. 

The last recruit signed in Clemson's 2017 recruiting class, Travis Etienne made the most of every opportunity. He made his team and college football better along the way. Etienne, rings in hand and records on the books, is as good as it gets.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports