NEW ORLEANS — Travis Etienne's homecoming of sorts to Louisiana was a mixed bag.
Emotionally, the experience was a roller coaster. He and his family received death threats prior to the kickoff Monday.
“One person said we had less than 24 hours to get out of Louisiana,” Etienne's mother, Donnetta, told the The Greenville News.
His team played a back-and-forth game with LSU to close out the first half. And, an early first half lead evaporated behind a LSU 21-point second quarter, resulting in a 42-25 loss in Monday's national championship.
Physically, the game ebbed and flowed in-and-out of his favor Monday night, highlighted by only a fistful of touches in the first quarter (five carries for 22 yards) and a limited amount of breathing room from the LSU defense.
All of which, became a high of success in the second quarter and into the half — sparked by Etienne's a 29-yard second quarter carry up the Clemson sideline — giving him 64 yards at the half on 10 carries.
In the second half? 14 yards rushing.
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Clemson RB Travis Etienne attempts to evade LSU LB Jacoby Phillips. (Photo: JOSH MORGAN/Staff)
Mentally, memories and reflections of Etienne's upbringing in Jennings, Louisiana, hugged his psyche with the bittersweet bliss of nostalgia.
"It is a very small town. It takes a village to raise a kid. I know everybody around there. Everybody was able to — back in the day, if I was doing something, my neighbors were able to spank me until my mom got there. It kept me humble, kept me — made me who I am today, made me appreciate things a little more, be thankful for the opportunities in life," Etienne said. "Just being here, not many get the opportunity to have that in life. I'm thankful, grateful for that. It has just helped me with my outlook on life."
Either way you dice it, one thing was undeniable about Etienne's return, and his first time playing in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, it was well-awaited and not a total wash.
"It is very exciting, just knowing the opportunity I have to come back to my home state and be able to possibly win a national championship here, which is really great," Etienne told the press at Saturday's media day. "It's something you couldn't think of, something you couldn't even script up in a movie. I can't thank nobody but God for the opportunity I have. Going out, executing, making the most out of my chances."
Etienne did that Monday night, irrespective of the outcome of the game. He was the same back he's been all season: great speed-to-power conversion, tough to take down on the first hit and still the "one that got away," in the eyes of LSU head coach Ed Orgeron.
And his numbers and opportunities were more than likely curtailed because Clemson was playing from behind.
Etienne finished the game with only 78 yards rushing on 15 carries, but became Clemson's all-time leading rusher, passing Raymond Preister (3,966). Etienne's 4,038 career yards rushing makes him the Tigers' first ever 4,000 yard rusher and the ninth player in ACC history.
"It's amazing to block for a guy like that," tackle Tremayne Anchrum said. "He's such an amazing player and a really dope dude, and to get him over that hump in his home state was amazing. It may not have been the result that we wanted but it's an honor and privilege to block for Etienne."
So, to say Etienne's homecoming was a total disappointment would be false. There were marks he left and a name he etched into the record books, and what better place to do it than at home — the very place he and his family was given "24 hours" to leave.
Follow The Greenville News' Andre Toran on Twitter @AndreToran.
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