Football

Heading into Miami Beach Bowl, senior year a major positive for Memphis safety Fritz Etienne

Whether or not the Marlins Park roof gets opened for Monday’s Miami Beach Bowl between Memphis and Brigham Young, Memphis senior safety Fritz Etienne’s will play with the wind at his back. Figuratively, that’s the way his fall has gone.

Etienne’s college-affiliated football career ends with a game within 15 minutes of his neighborhoods – he lived in Miami Gardens and would hang out at Fritz Etienne Sr.’s home in Little Haiti on the weekends. His family got up to Memphis for Senior Day and then, this past Sunday, to see Etienne Jr. take part in the graduation ceremony after achieving an undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies.

“My mom (Starri Carter) was very proud,” Etienne said. “Words can’t describe how great that felt.”

That’s pending possible NFL employment, now possible after Etiennne played regular snaps on defense as a senior. He transferred to Memphis for 2012 spring practice and immediately tore an anterior cruciate ligament. That cost him the entire 2012 season. Upon returning for 2013, he found himself stuck behind Lonnie Ballantine, who became the 2014 NFL Draft’s Mr. Irrelevant when Houston chose him with the last overall pick in the draft.

“(Etienne) played really well on special teams (in 2013),” Memphis coach Justin Fuente said. “This year, he’s stepped up and played really well.”

In his first year as a starter, Etienne finished as the Tigers’ second-leading tackler and picked off three passes, returning one for a touchdown.

“We went 9-3, which is Memphis’ best record in a long time,” Etienne said. “I didn’t make all-conference, but I did get invited to the East-West Shrine Game. This year has been just a blessing.”

Fuente said, “What sets Fritz apart is he’s highly intelligent. He has a complete understanding of what we’re doing back there.”

When Fuente got hired on Dec. 8, 2011, he said Etienne was one of the first players he checked out while trying to put together a recruiting class and a coaching staff. Etienne had just spent the 2011 season at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College.

Etienne’s grades coming out of Monsignor Edward Pace High prevented a Second Team All-Dade linebacker and defensive end from going to an FBS school. After a brief hop to North Carolina Tech prep school, Etienne wound up in Coffeyville. He moved to strong safety there and came up with five turnovers in 2011 (four fumble recoveries, one interception).

“We did a lot of background review, watched a lot of tape,” Fuente said. “We were very optimistic he could be a good player.”

Fuente needed players. Etienne needed a football home after junior college. He didn’t care if it was FBS, FCS, Division III, whatever.

“It reminded me of home,” Etienne said of Memphis. “If you ride around parts of Memphis, it looks like Liberty City. The coaches showed me love. My teammates showed me love.”

Now, Memphis the city might be home. Not only will Etienne leave Memphis as his family’s first college graduate, but he’s got a job lined up with FedEx’s human resources department in Memphis.

That’s what happens when the autumn winds blow at your back.

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