CLEMSON — There’s nothing like mama’s cooking or a late-night snack at a nearby restaurant for Travis Etienne.
It’s comfort food for Clemson’s record-setting running back, and Etienne admits he might have spent a little too much time at the dinner table and on the couch during the Tigers' recent spring break.
When Etienne left Clemson after the Tigers’ last practice for his home in Jennings, La., he figures he weighed about 210 pounds.
But after almost 10 days of his mother’s and grandmother’s cooking, and a couple of trips over Lake Charles for some barbecue and po’ boy sandwiches at Darrell’s, he tipped the scales at 218 pounds when he got back for practice.
"The question is, what didn't I eat," Etienne said with a chuckle. "I had a lot of pot pies. I went to Darrell's. My mom, she cooked every day, she makes a lot of rice and gravy. My grandmother made a couple dishes for me. And a lot of snacks. Just bad stuff.”
The Clemson coaching staff wanted Etienne to bulk up a little bit after last season in order for him to block better in pass protection. Etienne said he weighed 203 pounds during the national championship against Alabama and hopes to play at about 210 this fall. So putting on some extra weight has been a priority for him during the offseason.
Adding weight from his mother’s cooking and from fast food wasn’t a part of the plan. He paid the price during the Tigers' first practice back from spring break.
"I went home and had a little too much to eat," Etienne said. "I spent a lot of time at home, not thinking about football, and it kind of showed. I felt bad during practice. I didn't drink a lot of water, kind of got back to my old habits, and I paid for it. I wanted to put on weight, just not like this. I was doing it eating and not doing it the right way, so I’m going to try and slim down and do it the right way.”
A few trips to the sauna and some extra work after practice and Etienne is confident he can drop the weight in no time.
“This is the biggest I’ve ever been,” Etienne said. “When spring practice first started, I was a little too big and dropped a little bit, but before I went home I was doing it the right way. I tend to go to Zaxby’s a little too much. I need to eat healthy. ”
Clemson needs Etienne to be in top form when the 2019 season opens up in the fall. As good as freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence was, it was Etienne who had the best season of any Tigers running back in program history.
Etienne, who finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting and was named the ACC’s offensive player of the year, is coming off a record-setting season when he established new single-season school marks for rushing yards (1,658), yards per carry (8.1), rushing touchdowns (24), total touchdowns (26) and points scored (156).
“I asked him if they still have one water tower or two in Jennings since he got so famous,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said jokingly this week.
Two areas of emphasis this spring for Etienne have been his blocking and pass receiving.
“I need to improve my blocking, and from a receiving standpoint, improve on my routes and improve on my hands,” he said.
Etienne caught just 12 passes last season, and if he wants to become a three-down back in the NFL, he will have show the scouts he can be a threat in the passing game.
"Last season, Trevor threw me a couple of balls, and I dropped them,” Etienne said. “I don't know, I feel nervous, I guess. The ball is coming, and I always feel like the defender is right there, so I run before I catch the ball and get spooked by my surroundings."
Etienne has immersed himself in the Tigers’ playbook this spring in hopes of getting a better grasp on the offense, which should help his production in the passing game.
“I think experience and awareness is going to help me,” Etienne said. “Just knowing the plays and reading the defense’s pre-snap, so I can have a feel for where they are and look the ball in.”
Etienne averaged less than 14 carries a game in 2018, and like any running back, he’d like to see that number higher this year. But because he didn’t have the wear and tear due to the extra rushing attempts, Etienne acknowledged that he was probably fresher that most running backs when the College Football Playoffs rolled around.
“I think we had a great system, and it led me to be the best I could be at the end of the season,” he said. “I wouldn’t have had the success I had, especially late in the season.”