CLEMSON— For some coaches, they get into the job for the fame it can bring or the money it can provide. But then, for a select few, they get into the job because of what the game can give to their players.
Because of what the game gave to them first.
"I didn't get into coaching for the accolades, and the notoriety, and everything that comes with it. I got into the profession because football was that for me,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “It taught me to be the best version of myself. That's what I want to do for my players. I want them to be the best for themselves.
“Because, the reality is that if Travis (Etienne) learns how to do that at this level and Tavien (Feaster) learns how to do that at this level, then he is going to maximize his opportunities at the next level, and more importantly, he's going to be the best father he can be, he's going to be the best husband he can be, and really in our society, with the platform that these guys have, they can really impact change if they're just the best versions of themselves.”
Elliott is in the unique spot of having the opportunity to not only help his group of running backs become the “best version” of themselves, but he has the opportunity to coach one of the best running backs in school history.
Etienne enters the 2019 season ranked first in school history in career yards per carry (7.8, minimum 1,000 yards) and career points per game (8.4), third in career rushing touchdowns (37), fourth in total career touchdowns (39), 11th in career points (234) and 12th in career rushing yards (2,424).
He also set single-season school records in 2018 in rushing yards (1,658), yards per carry (8.1), rushing touchdowns (24), total touchdowns (26) and points scored (156).
Elliott understands the unique situation that he is in with Etienne.
Etienne burst onto the scene in 2017 and ever since that season, his stock has steadily grown—including a top 7 finish in last year’s Heisman Trophy voting, the highest ranked running back.
While Elliott is busy maintaining and coaching one of the most dynamic players in college football, he understands that the reason the boy from Louisiana chose to spur instate LSU for Clemson had more to do with what he could become off the football field than on it.
“When it's all said and done, no one is going to care about the record that (co-offensive coordinator) Jeff (Scott) and I have as coordinators, nobody is going to care about the national championships,” Elliott said. “Really, what I am going to be judged by is how I impacted this young man's life for the 3-5 years that I have him. His family is counting on me. Back there in Jennings, Louisiana, he's the pride of that town and they're counting on me to make sure that when he comes back there, he's not just Travis Etienne that can run the football.
“He’s Travis Etienne that can really change the community because he's trying to be the best version of himself.”
The biggest challenge to Elliott this season may be getting Etienne to accept his new found fame and status.
If he can learn to harness his fame and the attention that he garners the right way, Elliott believes that will be the moment that he takes his game to another level entirely.
”He doesn't like the attention, so sometimes that causes him to shy away from his leadership opportunities,” Elliott said. “And I'm telling him every day, 'Hey man that's a gift and a curse. You prayed for this, you asked for this success that you're having, and now you have to take the unintended consequences that come with it. Now your teammates are looking up to you and they want to hear your voice. They know you're going to make a play, but man they want to hear your voice, your encouragement.’
"I think when his mind transitions to when he really embraces his role as a leader, I think his game is really going to go an even higher level."