Clemson's Travis Etienne celebrates his touchdown run during the first half the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Jennings running back Travis Etienne tries to break a tackle during the Acadiana Area Football Kiwanis Jamboree on Aug. 28, 2015 at Cajun Field in Lafayette.



Wearing Clemson shirts in support of alumna Travis Etienne, Jennings High School students formed the school's initials on Jan. 7, 2019. Etienne went to Clemson, creating a pocket of fandom in south Louisiana.

Jennings High School retired Travis Etienne's No. 8 jersey during a ceremony in November 2019. Etienne went to Clemson, and residents of Jennings have supported Clemson because of him.

A "Tigers Divided" T-shirt hangs inside Parker's Workwear in Jennings, Louisiana, on Jan. 8, 2020. Brian Parker designed the shirt for the College Football Playoff National Championship between LSU and Clemson.

"Tigers Divided" T-shirts wait on a folding table inside Parker's Workwear in Jennings, Louisiana, on Jan. 8, 2020. Brian Parker designed the shirts for the College Football Playoff National Championship between LSU and Clemson.

Clemson's Travis Etienne celebrates his touchdown run during the first half the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Jennings High School retired Travis Etienne's No. 8 jersey during a ceremony in November 2019. Etienne went to Clemson, and residents of Jennings have supported Clemson because of him.

"Tigers Divided" T-shirts wait on a folding table inside Parker's Workwear in Jennings, Louisiana, on Jan. 8, 2020. Brian Parker designed the shirts for the College Football Playoff National Championship between LSU and Clemson.

JENNINGS — Near the middle of downtown Jennings, Parker’s Workwear has existed since 1958. The store sells boots, jeans, outerwear, hats and shirts, and earlier this week, Brian Parker sat inside a room nestled amongst racks of clothes.

Ten days earlier, Parker created a T-shirt for the College Football Playoff National Championship. He split the word “Tigers” into orange and gold across the chest. The word “Divided” ran down the middle of the shirt with logos for Clemson and LSU on either side of the purple fabric. The design rested above a silhouette of Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the site of the championship game at 7:15 p.m. Monday.

Parker, whose father owns the store, placed No. 9 inside Clemson’s paw print. The number belongs to running back Travis Etienne.

Before Etienne graduated from Jennings High School, he became the most famous person in a city alongside Interstate 10 in south Louisiana. He scored 115 touchdowns and gained 8,864 yards during his career, packing the stands at football games. Once, an opposing player pulled a phone from his pants during postgame handshakes, stopping the line. He asked Etienne for a picture.

“This is unique for a small place,” Parker said as koozies slid underneath a heat press. “In Houston, New Orleans or Baton Rouge, there's more than just him in the same town. For us, it's one person: Travis.”

The Advocate's LSU beat team predicts the outcome of the Tigers' matchup with Clemson in their CFP Championship Game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

While Parker spoke, orders of the T-shirts filled cardboard boxes, waiting for pickup. Stacks of them rested on folding tables. The store had printed specialty orders from 5XL to ones small enough for 3-month-old babies. As of Wednesday afternoon, it had sold more than 500 shirts. Parker hoped to reach 1,000.

Last year, Parker designed orange T-shirts with Etienne’s number for Clemson’s appearance in the national championship against Alabama. The students at Jennings High wore them the day of the game. They filmed a video cheering for Etienne.

The city had no problem supporting Clemson against Alabama — but in this year’s title game, Etienne will face LSU, the state’s flagship university trying to win its first national championship since 2007. Etienne wanted to go to LSU, but for most of his time in high school, LSU didn’t want him.

Most of Jennings will pull for LSU during the national championship, but Etienne’s hometown will not root against him either, creating a pocket of Clemson fandom in the middle of a state obsessed with football.

“Everybody in this town loves LSU, and everybody in this town loves Travis,” said Leona Derouen, who works at Parker’s Workwear. “That’s why it’s ‘Tigers divided.’ ”

Jennings running back Travis Etienne tries to break a tackle during the Acadiana Area Football Kiwanis Jamboree on Aug. 28, 2015 at Cajun Field in Lafayette.

With a population of about 10,000 people, Etienne’s name spread through Jennings during little league football. By eighth grade, middle school coach Philip Dugas encouraged high school coaches to watch him. During conditioning one day in the gym, Dugas pointed him out to head coach Rusty Phelps.

Jennings’ coaches eased Etienne into varsity football. He didn’t start until the latter part of his freshman year, and only after Jennings suspended its running back. Etienne fumbled on his first run. Then he finished the game with more than 100 yards and two touchdowns — on five carries.

Attention rose around Etienne. Fans and coaches expected him to score almost every time he touched the football. Coaches rewinded his highlights during film sessions. Once, defenders closed Etienne’s route down the sideline. He shifted the football behind his back, away from the defense, and cut inside. Phelps thought Etienne bobbled the ball until he watched tape the next day.

Jennings used a veer offense, designed to gain 3 yards per play. The scheme pounded defenses, forcing long possessions that drained time. Instead, Etienne scored so fast, Jennings’ defense didn’t have time to rest. Phelps sometimes asked to slow down the offensive pace.

The city embraced Etienne as he reached stardom. He spoke to children at an elementary school and joined a mentorship program. He sometimes let teammates win track events. He never boasted about his talent, and when environmental science teacher Carrie Klein arrived during Etienne’s junior year, she asked him, “Aren’t you that good football player?”

Jennings had always loved its football team. It painted state championship victory years on the water tower, but it had never seen someone like Etienne. People filled the stands when he ran track, but the bleachers emptied after Etienne’s events. 

“Our superintendent used to say: 'Here to see the Travis Etienne show,’ ” Jennings offensive coordinator James Estes said. “And that's what it was.”

A "Tigers Divided" T-shirt hangs inside Parker's Workwear in Jennings, Louisiana, on Jan. 8, 2020. Brian Parker designed the shirt for the College Football Playoff National Championship between LSU and Clemson.

With Les Miles as head coach, LSU focused its recruiting efforts on running backs Cam Akers, a five-star recruit from Mississippi, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who lived in Baton Rouge.

LSU pursued Etienne after Ed Orgeron became head coach in 2016. Twenty minutes after his opening press conference, Orgeron called Phelps. They had known each other since attending college together at Northwestern State. Orgeron wanted Etienne, but he explained LSU believed it had Akers and Edwards-Helaire in the signing class.

“I told (Etienne) I wanted him,” Orgeron said, “but we didn't offer him right away. We felt this other back was coming and if we offered Travis, we'd lose the other back. Well, it was the wrong decision.”

The night Clemson won the national championship in 2017, assistant coach Tony Elliott called Phelps. Another running back had decommitted from Clemson, and it wanted Etienne.

Elliott visited three days later, waiting in Phelps’ office with coaches from throughout the country. They had all scheduled time with Etienne. Elliott went last. Etienne looked tired before his conversation with Elliott, but after they spoke, he emerged from a conference room, smiling.

As signing day approached, Orgeron visited Etienne’s home and met his parents. He made up ground in a couple weeks, but Etienne felt comfortable at Clemson. He liked the coaching staff and the offense. The town reminded him of home.

“I do believe if the process would have been right and we would have recruited him at an early age, he'd be a Tiger,” Orgeron said. “We're glad to have the backs that we have. I just don't like losing anybody in Louisiana when we didn't do a good job.”

Wearing Clemson shirts in support of alumna Travis Etienne, Jennings High School students formed the school's initials on Jan. 7, 2019. Etienne went to Clemson, creating a pocket of fandom in south Louisiana.

Etienne has burst onto the national stage during his career at Clemson, reaching the College Football Playoff three times. He has set the Atlantic Coast Conference record for career touchdowns. He won the national championship last season.

When Etienne committed to Clemson, he called it “the real Death Valley.” Some people still resent him for leaving the state. Etienne’s mother, Donnetta, reported threats from LSU fans via Twitter. Klein defended his decision this week online.

“I have no doubt there's a fuel; there's some fire burning inside come Monday,” Estes said. “I have no doubt. It's a little bit of, 'I told you so.’ ”

The city of Jennings has followed Etienne throughout his career. During football season, residents memorized the kickoff times for LSU and Clemson. High school administrators watched his games on televisions during homecoming dances. Clemson memorabilia helps decorate Phelps’ office.

The New Year's party was in full swing when John Jefferson raised his glass for a round of toasts toward his three sons.

The upcoming game has dominated conversations this week in Jennings. Many of the residents want Etienne to have the greatest game of his life, but they also want LSU to win. Some view the situation like they can’t lose.

2016 Organizer Notebook

Two months ago, in late November, Etienne returned home during Clemson’s open date. Jennings had reached the second round of the state playoffs, and the school retired Etienne’s jersey before the game.

Etienne didn’t understand the fuss, but his alma mater wanted to recognize its star. Inside the football stadium, 93 miles from LSU’s campus, one fan leaned against the fence wearing Etienne’s orange college jersey. Another waved a Clemson flag.

There is a room in Tiger Stadium where the walls virtually speak of the greatness, the lore, the legends of LSU football.

Spiral Notebook, Calendar Book, Wrapping Paper, Exercise Book- Hengchen,https://www.nbhengchen.com/