Hunter Renfrow is still unassuming.
Over the summer, the Tigers’ junior receiver went to a Hilton Head restaurant with teammates Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Mitch Hyatt.
When the owner of the restaurant found out Clemson football players were eating there, he stopped by and said to Renfrow, “Well, I know what you three (linemen) play. What are you? Are you a part of the team? Are you a student manager or something like that?”
That still happens, even to a player who caught the most memorable pass in Clemson football history.
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Don’t think for a second, though, that Renfrow has complete anonymity.
Since he cut to his right and secured a 2-yard touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson with one second to play against Alabama in Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 9, he has signed thousands of the Sports Illustrated covers of his catch.
His hometown of Myrtle Beach held a “Hunter Renfrow Day.” He’s held babies, stopped for countless selfies and could conceivably never pay for another meal in Clemson .
Those are the perks when you make the play that knocks Alabama off the college football perch with a 35-31 victory. Being the hero in several big games and giving Clemson fans their second national championship and first since 1981 comes with a lot of responsibility.
“I think he’s done a good job handling it,” said Tim Renfrow, Hunter’s dad and athletics director at Socastee High. “I know he gets tired of some of it. He also understands if he drops that ball in the national championship, it’s totally different.”
Hunter Renfrow is ready to move on. A new season brings even newer responsibilities.
He wants to become a bigger part of special teams. He’s excited about building relationships with his teammates, and he has a “greater appreciation” for being able to play football at Clemson.
A former walk-on turned superstar with 987 yards and 44 catches in two years is also stepping into a role usually held for the loud, boisterous types: leader.
Renfrow is built differently. He’s not going to yell and scream or stand up in the locker room and address the team before a big game.
He’s not Ben Boulware, the former linebacker who was the heart and soul of the Tigers during their back-to-back trips to the College Football Playoff and national championship game.
Renfrow’s approach is quieter.
“He’s kind of like a coach sitting in (the receivers room). That’s how he handles himself with the guys,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “He’s not an in-your-face kind of guy at all, but he’ll definitely point out and help and answer questions from all of them, from walk-ons to (starter) Deon (Cain). Renfrow will offer his help to any of them. He’ll also listen to all of them. He doesn’t walk around like he’s got all the answers. He’s a very humble kid.”
Despite the unassuming personality, the intangibles are there for Renfrow to thrive as a leader. Co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Jeff Scott says Renfrow already has a “ton of credibility” with his teammates. The junior has taken talented freshmen Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers under his wing and helped them adjust to both college life and football.
“I’m one of the older guys. I’ve been through the battles,” said Renfrow, whose had six of his 11 career touchdowns in the postseason. “I don’t necessarily have to be the (most) vocal leader.”
Instead, he’ll take what he learned from former Clemson receivers such as Adam Humphries, Mike Williams, Charone Peake and Artavis Scott.
Renfrow believes being a leader isn’t just something you’re born with; it can be developed.
“To be a great leader, you’ve got to be a great follower,” he said.
And when he needs to get a wider message out to his team, he said he’ll go through other emerging leaders such as Cain and tight end Milan Richard.
“He’s not very loud, but his work ethic and his enjoyment of what he does is a lot of it,” Tim Renfrow said. “I think people follow that. He’s going to have to talk a little bit more than he has in the last couple years, but Clemson’s had a lot of quiet leaders. Deshaun (Watson) wasn’t loud.”
To be an effective leader, respect is useful. Renfrow’s had that since shortly after he walked on. Swinney says when Renfrow first began practicing, defensive backs were quick to jump to the front of the line to take him on in drills, but after he made them look silly, the line got a lot shorter.
“He’s got a great mind for the game,” Swinney said. “He was a quarterback. He’s a coach’s son. He’s just been around the game forever. He’s just one of those kids when you split up kids in the neighborhood, he just knows how to play. He’s a great competitor, knows how to win, will compete at anything.
“He’s a very competitive guy, and it’s an unassuming competitiveness.”
It certainly helps that Renfrow treats practice like it’s a game every day. He’s developed his body and added 25 pounds in three years.
And he’s a good player. Swinney raves about Renfrow’s instincts and coachability. He can take something from film or the board and make it happen on the field almost immediately with his route running.
“Sometimes he gets overshadowed by some of the guys who are highly ranked or more flashy,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “He’s as consistent and as good a football player as I’ve been around.”