Clemson University

Leadership dynamics shift in Clemson’s running back room

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Adam Choice was Clemson’s second leading rusher during its 2018 national championship season, but he turned out to be the top leader in the running back room last fall.

A fifth-year senior who rushed for 548 yards in a committee of four backs, Choice kept a dominant group in check, but his graduation leaves the position with a big voice to fill in 2019.

By the end of spring practice, it’s clear that role will once again be manned by a role player.

Tavien (Feaster) is the voice right now,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Tony Elliott said last week. “In that meeting room, Tavien is the Alpha Dog. Once he saw that Choice moved on he said, ‘this is my room. I want to set the standard,’ and so far he’s been doing a really, really good job.”

This once again presents an unique dynamic. Junior Travis Etienne, not the senior Feaster, is the star who produced a single-season school record of 1,658 yards. Etienne rushed for 24 touchdowns in 15 games and heads into this fall as a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Feaster, meanwhile, is coming off a season in which the Spartanburg native battled several bumps and bruises to finish fourth on the team in rushing yards. That hasn’t stopped him from being a positive influence and having what the coaches called his best spring.

“With Adam leaving, we’re going to miss him, but Tavien Feaster really stepped up and became a better leader for us,” sophomore Lyn-J Dixon said. “He’s motivating the whole unit and pushing us and being by our sides and giving us knowledge.”

It’s not that Etienne doesn’t think leadership is important, Elliott said. He’s hearing Etienne’s voice in the running back room more this year than a season ago. Dixon has noticed Etienne being more assertive with the offensive line. But taking on that kind of role doesn’t come natural.

“(Etienne) doesn’t like the limelight, he doesn’t like the attention and sometimes that causes him to shy away from his leadership opportunities,” Elliott said. “Now your teammates are looking to you as a leader. They want to hear your voice. They know you’re going to make a play, but they want to hear your encouragement.

“I think when his mind transitions and he really embraces being a leader then I think his game will go to another level.”

No matter who takes charge in the running back room, one dynamic that won’t change is the successful use of Clemson’s rushers.

This three-headed monster of Etienne, Feaster and Dixon combined to produce over 2,600 yards last season without egos getting in the way.

“I feel like the system that we have in place allows me to be the best that I can be,” Etienne said. “If we didn’t have those guys I don’t think I’d have the yards and carries that I have right now.”