Decision day has arrived for top Louisiana running back Travis Etienne.
Etienne, the 4-star tailback from Jennings (La.) High, is down to LSU and Clemson, with a commitment expected around 5 p.m. CT on Twitter.
No announcement in the gymnasium. No hats to choose from. Just a decision between two sets of Tigers in need of running backs.
The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder is coming off an official visit to Clemson, his second of the month, and was scheduled to take his final visit to LSU this coming weekend. That plan remains in flux, though.
Here are several of the most important variables in Etienne’s decision-making process that SEC Country believes is pushing the needle in one direction:
Committing when ready
Earlier this month, Etienne informed SEC Country that he would commit after he took his best official visit.
At the time, Etienne was scheduled to head to Tennessee (Jan. 13-15), Texas A&M (Jan. 20-22) and LSU (Jan. 27-29) before signing day.
A wrench was thrown in those plans when Clemson, the defending national champions, extended an offer to the 4-star tailback on Jan. 12, ahead of his official visits.
While the destinations changed, Etienne’s plan did not.
“When I commit, I’m ending my whole recruitment,” Etienne said.
By all accounts, Etienne was ready to commit days after touching down in Clemson. Sources close to the football program have indicated that those Tigers are overly confident in their chances of landing the Louisiana native after a near-perfect visit, and some have whispered that Etienne even gave a silent pledge before heading back to The Boot.
The only hiccup here: LSU head coach Ed Orgeron, offensive coordinator Matt Canada and running backs coach Jabbar Juluke went in-home with Etienne on Monday. If that did not happen, then it might be even more obvious that Etienne was headed to Clemson.
On the contrary, a case can easily be made that even after the in-home, LSU came up short to Clemson following the official visit.
Distance is not a factor, scheme is
On Wednesday evening, Etienne had a sit-down conversation with his mother, father and all of his brothers and sisters. They took a look at LSU vs. Clemson and all of the pros and cons of each university.
The decision made centered around one word — fit.
Was the university a good fit socially, academically and athletically? With those factors in mind, one school quickly separated itself from the other.
“It was really quite an easy process because of his support system being so family oriented,” said Rusty Phelps, Etienne’s head football coach at Jennings (La.) High.
“Every school that recruited Travis did a great job of showing him how they were going to use him in their style of offense, how he would fit with their system, their players and their coaches.”
Based on a pure football sense, Clemson is the obvious selection here based on Etienne’s speed and ability to make plays out in space.
LSU’s offense — while in transition — will likely feature a downhill running game that Canada utilized at his stops in Wisconsin, N.C. State and Pitt. Think about the likes of Melvin Gordon or James Connor, for instance. Etienne boasts an effective, but different running style.
As far as distance goes, Etienne has conceded that he grew up dreaming of scoring touchdowns in Tiger Stadium. Most high school football players in Louisiana have that same dream.
Jennings is just about an hour down the road from LSU’s campus in Baton Rouge, and according to sources, the distance from home to Clemson was a concern for Etienne and his family on Sunday when they returned from the official visit.
However, the tailback did not want that to impact his decision.
“The last two or three months, he’s taken a step back and been maturing,” said Phelps. “Going away for school may have been a big factor in the spring, but I don’t think it’s a big deal now.”
Timing doesn’t matter
LSU offered Etienne on the heels of 5-star Mississippi back Cam Akers’ decision to commit to Florida State ahead of the Tigers.
That offer — objectively late — still put LSU in Etienne’s top three and led to the 4-star recruit scheduling an official visit to Baton Rouge for Jan. 27-29.
Clemson’s offer came on Jan. 12, a day after winning the national championship, and led to Etienne swapping out an official visit to A&M, the leader for his services at the time.
That’s the first sign that Etienne had a strong feeling about Clemson.
Sources close to the situation believe that Etienne’s parents were left with a bad taste in their mouths over LSU’s late offer because the school had recruited him longer. After all, Etienne camped at LSU while he was still committed to the Aggies and attended several home games this past fall. His offer came once LSU learned it was not going to land its top running back target, Akers.
Like LSU, Clemson’s late offer came was followed by an effective surge from the coaching staff. Head coach Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Jeff Scott were in Jennings soon after to touch base with the newly minted running back target ahead of his official visit.
“LSU had a lot of momentum, especially with Coach O and what he brought to the table and coming off that big bowl victory,” Phelps explained. “Clemson beat Alabama, and then they had a lot of momentum because of the national championship. They had a great visit and have done a great job for whatever time they’ve had. Take out whatever did or didn’t happen; this is about the programs.”
My crystal ball pick: Clemson
All ratings are from the 247Sports composite rankings unless otherwise noted.
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