A starter at left guard last season and the first four five games of this year, FAU removed Etienne from the starting unit and switched him to the outside of the line to make room for newcomer Desmond Noel as a starter.
On Saturday, Etienne came off the bench for a few series at right tackle. FAU coach Lane Kiffin elected to insert new second-string left guard Deon Humphrey at the same time. That’s when a touch of comical confusion hit Etienne.
“The only thing that threw me of is that when we lined up in the huddle on the sideline [before taking the field] I normally go to one side every time,” Etienne said. “I’m telling Deon he’s on the wrong side. He was like, Nah, you’re on the wrong side. That was the only thing that threw me off.”
Etienne found the move from the left side to the right side of the line, not the position change, to be the toughest part of the transition.
“Playing the left side for so long, moving to the right side is a challenge,” Etienne said. “You’ve just got to flip the base principals that you’ve learned. You’ve just got to do the opposite.”
A redshirt sophomore, Etienne hadn’t played right tackle since his sophomore year in high school.
Kiffin bemoaned the offensive line’s play early in the season, at one point singling out play at the left guard position, but Etienne says FAU’s coaches never told him specifically why they were moving him to tackle.
“At the beginning it was a little rough,” Etienne said. “Now it’s going real smooth.”
The 6-foot-3 and 310-pound Etienne believes he brings athleticism to his new position.
Etienne was on the field for FAU’s biggest offensive play in Saturday’s victory over Middle Tennessee, a Malcolm Davidson 57-yard touchdown run that around the left side of the line that gave the Owls some breathing room.
“It’s just adding another thing to my arsenal, I guess,” Etienne said of his move. “It’s new, fun, different. I’m going out there, learning new things, so that’s what I like about it.”
Noel, meanwhile, felt comfortable in his first start as an Owl. Having transferred to FAU after the start of the season, Noel said the most challenging part of the last month has been learning the playbook. The extra reps afforded by the previous week’s bye raised his comfort level with the Owls’ offense.
Now Noel wants to focus one playing nasty.
“I’m thinking a lot about technique,” Noel said. “It’s kind of overtaking the nastiness with which I want to play. Once I really get the plays and the technique down as second nature to where I don’t have to think about that, then you guys will see really my full aggression.”