First and foremost, Hunter Renfrow is a football player. Quarterback of the high school team, son of the coach, he came to Clemson to play football.
For a long time Renfrow thought he’d be a baseball player, a center fielder, preferably as a pro. Renfrow wasn’t one of those travel team guys. He played for the local American Legion post, so he didn’t have the exposure and didn’t face the level of competition that frequently lead to scholarships with the bigger programs. Liberty University made a substantial offer when he was a junior and Duke showed some interest, but football was his first love.
Renfrow also loved Clemson. His mother was a Clemson graduate. Older brother Jordan was already a student when he thanked App State and the others and enrolled last year at Clemson as a 160-pound wide receiver – a “preferred” walk-on without a scholarship.
Joining a program that spits out pro wide receivers like they were sunflower seeds was a calculated decision. Renfrow spent a season on the scout team. He did not go unnoticed.
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In August, one year and nearly 15 pounds later he was awarded a scholarship.
When a publication rated Clemson’s collection of wide receivers third best in the nation (behind Baylor and Texas A&M), Renfrow was not mentioned. Renfrow debuted with two receptions in the Wofford game. He scored his first touchdown 12 days later on a 32-yard pass at Louisville. As a frequent target of quarterback Deshaun Watson, he moved this week to the top of the depth chart. Still he remains a curiosity.
Dabo Swinney said Renfrow looked like a chemist, with apologies to the chemists. Renfrow has grown accustomed to the obtuse comparisons. He has been variously described as the water boy, a trainer and a member of the band.
In glasses he could pass for Peter Parker.
Recently, while switching majors from civil engineering (not chemistry) to economics he inquired about scheduling an advisor. Told the hours would clash with his football duties, Renfrow patiently explained he was a member of the varsity and not the club team.
There’s always been a Hunter Renfrow on Dabo Swinney’s teams. A walk-on receiver who earned a scholarship at Alabama, he seems to have an affinity for guys like Renfrow.
Frequently compared to Adam Humphries, a more recent member of the program who stuck with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after being signed this year as an undrafted free agent, Renfrow is probably more similar to Tyler Grisham, another former receiver who like Humphries had a brief pro career with Pittsburgh and Denver before returning to Clemson as a graduate assistant coach.
All three wore No. 13.
“Hunter can play,” Swinney said. “Now he’s 175 pounds, he’s stronger and he’s still just a freshman. He’s still going to get better.
“He is fast and explosive and just a very instinctive football player, great change of direction and excellent ball skills. And he’s our backup punter, too, don’t forget about that.
“He’s just a good football player,” he said. “He is a legit division one scholarship wide receiver.”
Actually he began as a ball boy for his father’s teams at Socastee High. Tim Renfrow said his son wanted to be a receiver “since he was little” but was needed at quarterback in the triple-option scheme, starting as a halfback and quarterback as a sophomore then running the offense fulltime his last two years.
“I think he’d have been disappointed if he didn’t try at that level,” said Tim Renfrow, now athletic director at Socastee. “He just made up his mind to go and see what he could do.”
Swinney’s background creates a fertile environment for players like his son, he said. “A lot of places you go as a walk-on they might not get the shot that he got.”
Athletic by the grace of God, he honed the skill over the years hanging with his dad’s teams, playing with his siblings and cousins. He and his three brothers would agitate their mother by tossing balls indoors. Renfrow said he became a better receiver because of her inaccurate throws in the backyard. “I had to learn how to adjust to the ball, a lot.”
“I always had the dream of being a solid contributor,” he said. “I was looking to see if I could play with these guys. When I realized I could, I went to work and tried to make the best of it.
“I knew I was smaller than everyone, but I knew I could get bigger. I knew I could play, and going against the defense we had last year with the scout team every day just really gave me confidence. I think that was the biggest thing for me.”
Swinney was acquainted with Renfrow’s father through recruiting so it wasn’t a reach to recruit his son.
“Every now and then you get lucky. When I say lucky, we knew he was very talented so we offered him an opportunity to come in here,” Swinney said. “He worked his tail off. He’s got good length to him. He had the fastest shuttle time on the team. He’s got some explosiveness to him, great leaping ability.
“Just one of those guys, he just doesn’t look like (a football player). You put him between the lines, man, he’s a player.”
Highlights for Fab Four
Clemson’s freshmen wide receivers:
Eight receptions for 80 yards in a win against Wofford.
Career-highs with five catches for 96 yards vs. Ga. Tech.
Had a 32-yard touchdown reception vs. Louisville.
He had three receptions for 47 yards against Ga. Tech.