CLEMSON — This past July, about 2,000 people congregated at Jennings High (La.) for the school's annual alumni softball tournament. Among those in the crowd was a shy graduate from the class of 2017 who just wanted to blend in. 

The people of Jennings let him do just that.

"That's what he likes about coming home," Jennings football coach Rusty Phelps said. "He's just Travis. He's just Travis."

Travis Etienne, superstar Clemson running back, is more than just Travis to the college football world. He's the reigning ACC Player of the Year, a popular Heisman Trophy candidate. He's maybe the most exciting player in a program that also happens to include quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and with such success comes a bright spotlight.

Etienne set a career high with 205 rushing yards and tied a career high with three touchdowns in Clemson's season opener last Thursday, needing just 12 carries to put the Tigers' 52-14 win over Georgia Tech out of reach.

He'll be front and center Saturday, when No. 1 Clemson hosts No. 12 Texas A&M on ABC. But that doesn't mean Etienne has to like all of the attention.

"I'm more confident with it," Etienne said. "Doesn't mean I enjoy it more."

Etienne's always had a tepid relationship with attention. In high school, he skipped a football awards banquet at which he was scheduled to receive area MVP honors to play in a basketball game that had no bearing on Jennings' playoff seeding. 

He's fit right in at Clemson, where individual accomplishments are subservient to team goals. Etienne hasn't had to be indoctrinated in 'team-first' verbiage. When he attributes his success to his offensive linemen, he really means it. 

"He was embarrassed when they gave him the game ball," Phelps said of one of Etienne's more prolific high school performances. "You could kind of tell. He gives you that, 'Oh, shucks,' type of deal.'"


Clemson's Travis Etienne runs for a touchdown against Georgia Tech in the Tigers' 52-14 victory on Aug. 29. Travis Bell/Sideline Carolina

That attitude is noteworthy in an era of increased personal branding, where athletes take more time to curate their self-images. 

Etienne, meanwhile, doesn't think to bask in his accomplishments. Recently, a coach reminded the junior running back of his conference player of the year honor. 

"Oh yeah, that was me!" Etienne said.

He could be in line for another slew of postseason awards this season, if his Week One performance is any indication, though more Clemson blowouts could lead to more early exits for Etienne. 

This year his leadership is expected to extend beyond the gridiron. With Tavien Feaster's transfer to South Carolina, Etienne is one of the most experienced running backs on the roster.

Swinney is counting on Etienne to mentor sophomore Lyn-J Dixon, who rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown on eight carries against the Yellow Jackets, and freshmen backs Chez Mellusi and Michael Dukes, who played at First Baptist in Charleston. 

He's up for the task, but he's hardly ready to view himself among the stars of the sports world. A few nights before Clemson's opener, Etienne was lying in bed, thinking back to this past summer's ESPY Awards.

"I was like, 'Man, I really was in the same room with Odell (Beckham Jr.) and Dwayne Wade.' It just kind of hit me," Etienne said. "I'm really just thankful."

Perhaps Etienne, who often watches himself on the Jumbotron during big runs, has stayed level-headed at Clemson in part because of his relationship with offensive co-coordinator/running backs coach Tony Elliott.

With the game out of reach last week, Etienne was stewing over his lost fumble. He was shocked when someone approached him and told him he had rushed for more than 200 yards.

"That's what he's supposed to do," Elliott said. 

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