Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has instilled in his team that it doesn’t matter how many stars you have by your name coming out of high school or how many national titles you have as a program, you can be successful.
That mindset was on display constantly this year, including in Monday night’s national championship win over Alabama.
Two of the stars of Monday’s showdown were quarterback Deshaun Watson and receiver Hunter Renfrow. The five-star recruit and former walk-on connected for the game-winning touchdown from 2 yards out with one second remaining, as the Tigers won their first national title since 1981.
“To me, that moment, that epitomizes what our program is all about,” Swinney said during a news conference Tuesday morning in Tampa. “You’ve got the five-star quarterback throwing the game-winning touchdown to the walk-on wideout, and that’s the epitome of our team. It doesn’t matter if you’re the five-star guy or the walk-on, best player plays. You earn it. There’s no entitlement in our program.”
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Renfrow caught 10 passes for 92 yards and two scores against a defense filled with five-star talent.
In addition to the game-winning touchdown, Renfrow scored on a 24-yard pass in the third quarter, a play where he weaved his way through the Crimson Tide secondary.
He also made one of the biggest under-the-radar plays in the game, tackling Alabama’s Ryan Anderson at the Clemson 16 after Tigers running back Wayne Gallman fumbled early in the third quarter. It appeared as if Anderson would score before Renfrow caught him from behind. Alabama settled for a field goal as Renfrow saved four points.
“I remember last year, everybody is like, why are we playing Hunter Renfrow,” Swinney recalled. “I mean, I’m at practice every day, and he’s the best player, period. It’s just amazing to me, if we lined all of our managers up, he’d be about the 10th guy you’d pick to be Hunter Renfrow.”
The win over Alabama finished off an incredible season for Clemson that saw the Tigers defeat each of the past seven national title winners in one season,
Clemson started the year with a victory over 2010 champion Auburn before knocking off 2013 champ Florida State in the middle of the season.
The Tigers then topped 2014 champion Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl before completing their run with a win over 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2015 champion Alabama.
Clemson has been an underdog in its past seven postseason games, all against big-name opponents. The Tigers are 7-0 against the spread and 6-1 straight up in those matchups with two wins over Ohio State, two wins over Oklahoma and one win each over LSU and Alabama.
Each of those programs gets more attention than Clemson, yet the Tigers continue to come out on top.
“The theme of the College Football Playoff this year was chasing greatness,” Swinney said. “And I told the team, I said, ‘You know you guys, we’ve got a great opportunity to hopefully give a lot of people some hope out there, that greatness is for all of us. It’s not just for the Alabamas, the Ohio States, the Notre Dames, it’s for all of us. Nobody is better than us. You’ve got to believe man, you’ve got to believe.’ ”