Clemson coach Dabo Swinney previews matchup with Duke
Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow doesn’t look like a college football player, let alone a starter for one of the top programs in the country.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney has joked that Renfrow looks more like a manager than a receiver. And when Renfrow stood up to introduce himself to Clemson’s team for the first time as a freshman in 2014, then Tigers receiver Adam Humphries was stunned when Renfrow began to speak.
“I knew we had some new receivers coming in. I always pay attention when they get introduced in the team room. When Hunter stood up I felt for sure he wasn’t a receiver. I thought he was going to be a kicker,” Humphries recalled. “He didn’t look like a receiver, and that’s coming from a guy who is 5-11, 190. I mean I don’t look like a receiver either. But that was the first thing that kind of stood out to me. It was a little shocking to hear that he was a receiver.”
No one could have imagined on that day in the summer of 2014 that the scrawny Renfrow would go on to have one of the greatest careers in Clemson history.
The Myrtle Beach native caught the game-winning touchdown pass for Clemson in the 2016 national title game and has four touchdown receptions in two national championship matchups against Alabama.
Renfrow can add to his already impressive resume on Saturday when the Tigers host Duke on Senior Day. He will set the school record for consecutive games with a reception at 39 if he records a catch against the Blue Devils, and he is also set to make his 43rd start, which will be a school record for a receiver.
The 5-10, 185-pound wideout may not have all of the physical tools that coaches look for in a receiver, but his ability is undeniable. Renfrow has been proving people wrong since the moment he showed up at Clemson, and while there will be plenty of doubters at the next level as well, he is ready for a chance to prove more people wrong in the NFL.
“That’s definitely something I’ve dreamed about, kind of like I dreamed about playing at Clemson. For me it’s very similar,” Renfrow said. “I don’t know if I’ll get drafted or a free agent or whatnot, but I really just want a chance. I feel like if I get a chance I’ll give it my best effort… just get in the door and be able to play between the white lines.”
Renfrow believed that he could make plays for a Power 5 program when he chose to walk on at Clemson instead of accepting a scholarship at a smaller FBS program. And even though he did not appear in a game in 2014, his redshirt freshman season let him know that he belonged.
“I believe at the time we had 115 players on the team. And I would say that if we lined them up one through 115, just based off of physical appearance, stature, those type of things, he probably would’ve been ranked No. 115,” Tigers receivers coach Jeff Scott said. “He was probably 155 pounds and just did not look like the rest of the guys, that’s for sure.”
But it didn’t take Renfrow long to separate himself as more than just a typical walk-on.
The 2014 Clemson defense is the one that defensive coordinator Brent Venables points to as his best unit. And while that defense finished No. 1 in the nation in total defense, a little walk-on named Hunter Renfrow kept making plays against it in practice.
“Every day we would do one-on-ones, it wasn’t separated into scout team players go against scout team DBs. I remember Hunter going against some of our first team defensive backs and doing just as well as our starters were,” Humphries said. “He’s that good of a player. That’s when it stood out to me like, ‘Man, this guy can play.’”
Scott spent most of his time working with Clemson’s varsity receivers and not with the scout team, but defensive coaches started coming up to him that season and telling him about plays Renfrow was making against Clemson’s starting defense.
The more plays Renfrow made, the more confidence he gained.
A LEGEND IS BORN
When Humphries graduated following the 2014 season it left a void on Clemson’s offense.
Renfrow wasn’t immediately called upon to fill it as he wasn’t even listed on the preseason depth chart, but Clemson’s coaching staff believed he had a chance to step in.
“After watching Hunter his freshman year we decided to give him No. 13 because we felt like he fit in the mold of what Adam Humphries was whenever he left,” Scott said.
Soon, due in part to injuries, Renfrow was making plays just like Humphries.
Renfrow appeared in all 15 of Clemson’s games during his redshirt freshman season, making 10 starts. He had a coming out party in the national championship game against Alabama, catching seven passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns against the Crimson Tide’s vaunted defense.
He earned a starting spot for Clemson again as a sophomore in 2016 and started nine games while battling a hand injury.
He followed up his two-touchdown performance against Alabama as a freshman with 10 catches for 92 yards and two scores against the Tide as a sophomore. His game-winning catch in the final seconds of the national title game cemented his place as a legend at Clemson.
“Really where I gained the most confidence where I felt like I belonged and not like an underdog anymore is just both the national championships,” Renfrow said. “Just being able to do it on the biggest stage and get that respect, it really helped me along my journey.”
STAYING A STARTER
Clemson recruits receivers as well as any program in the country, and the Tigers are constantly bringing in five-star prospects.
But Renfrow has maintained his starting job for the majority of four seasons. The Tigers signed four scholarship receivers for the class of 2014 – Artavis Scott, Trevion Thompson, Demarree Kitt and Kyrin Priester – but it is the walk-on Hunter Renfrow who is set to have the most starts ever for a wide receiver at Clemson.
“I’ve been extremely lucky. I got lucky whenever we had some injuries my freshman year and I was able to kind of get on the field. And then I was able to make some plays,” Renfrow said. “And for me, it’s just really going out there every day and proving myself over and over again.”
Clemson signed a pair of highly-rated receivers in Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud for the class of 2015. The Tigers brought in receivers Cornell Powell, Diondre Overton and T.J. Chase for the class of 2016. In 2017 Clemson signed Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers. And this year Derion Kendrick and Justyn Ross arrived on campus.
Renfrow hasn’t let any of the new additions faze him.
“They bring in a new five-star every year. They bring in a new player that’s ready to take my job every year,” Renfrow said. “And for me, it’s just going out there and not necessarily earning it on the game field but earning it at practice and the offseason workouts every year, every day.”
Just as all college football players do, Renfrow has aspirations of playing in the NFL.
Whether he is drafted or signs as a free agent, he will likely join a team and go through many of the same experiences he did after arriving at Clemson.
Chances are that when Renfrow introduces himself to his teammates, several will think he is a kicker and not a receiver. And chances are that if you lined up the players on the NFL team Renfrow will join based on physical appearance and stature, Renfrow would be near the end of the line if not at the back.
But that’s OK with Renfrow. He just wants a shot. He has gone out and made plays against some of the best competition in college football and has won battles against several guys that are currently playing on Sundays.
“I’ll watch the NFL occasionally and I’ll be like, ‘Oh, I played against that guy. I played against that guy.’ Even this past week I was looking at some of the rookies, Derwin James, Jessie Bates from Wake Forest had big games, and I went up against them one-on-one a lot,” Renfrow said. “I can draw confidence from those games.”
Scott, who has coached his share of NFL receivers, from Sammy Watkins to DeAndre Hopkins, speaks with NFL scouts regularly and gives them all the same message about Renfrow.
“I tell every pro scout that comes through here that he’s one of the most talented wide receivers that I’ve had the opportunity to coach at Clemson,” Scott said. “I believe if he continues to work and he’s able to stay healthy, I believe that he’s a guy that’s going to have a 12 to 14 year pro career, just because of his skill set and his mindset, the way that he works, very mature, very smart player.”
Humphries, who is in his fourth season in the NFL, believes Renfrow belongs there as well.
“There’s no doubt I think he has a chance. I remember when I was coming out I was a senior in college and Jaron Brown was telling me, just the way Clemson runs their program that I would be fine in the NFL. I didn’t believe him at the time. I was like, ‘Dude, I’m glad you’re telling me this. It’s nice of you. But there’s no chance I’m going to play in the NFL,’” Humphries said. “Then four years later I’m still in it and surviving. That’s a testament to the culture at Clemson and the receiver room. We hold each other to high standards. Just that alone, I think Hunter will be fine. He’s definitely got the skill and the talent level to play in the NFL. I’m excited to see him succeed at the next level.”