Hunter Renfrow had a modest two catches for 10 yards as Clemson claimed its second national championship in three years Monday night.
It was a far cry from when he had 10 catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns — including the game-winner — in the 2017 College Football Playoff finale.
However, any way you look at it, the physically miniscule — by wide receiver standards — Socastee High School product has loomed large for the Tigers since joining the program as a mere footnote. He was a walk-on long before becoming a household name in the college football landscape, after all.
Fast forward to now and we see that the 5-foot-10, 180-pound former option quarterback from Myrtle Beach ended his career Monday — when second-seeded Clemson throttled top-seeded Alabama 44-16 — as one of the faces of a program that has risen to the top of the mountain in college football. Indeed, he and Deshaun Watson connected on a touchdown pass to deliver the Tigers’ first title in 35 years in that 2017 game, a signature moment for the program.
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But what happened in the fourth CFP meeting between the Tigers and Alabama — a 28-point thumping of the Crimson Tide — leaves Clemson as the top program in college football, one that has no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
When the 2019 season begins, Renfrow will no longer be playing for the Tigers. Despite that, Clemson — behind rising sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who was the star of the title game — will be the favorites to win it all again.
This is all something coach Dabo Swinney has built over time, and it’s depended on everyone, from the stars like Watson to the underdogs-turned-stars like Renfrow, to make it happen.
“You just have to be committed and determined to do it, and that’s what he shows — determination and hard work and be patient and wait for your opportunities and be ready when they present themselves and, gosh, that’s his story right there,” said Socastee High coach Doug Illing, who coached Renfrow his senior year. “It’s a tremendous inspiration to people.”
As he woke up Tuesday, Renfrow found himself counted among a small group of Tigers players who can say they are two-time national champions. In a few months, he likely will wake up being able to say he’s been drafted by an NFL team.
In many ways, Renfrow embodies what Clemson was and is now. He and the Tigers started as the underdog, going against the likes of Alabama, Ohio State and others. But those Goliaths soon found out that the heart of a champion was pounding inside the likes of Renfrow and the other players in purple and orange.
From there, Renfrow and the Clemson program evolved, becoming the best of the best.
Now, Renfrow will begin preparations for the NFL draft, a prospect few could have imagined when he was a Tigers walk-on who redshirted in 2014.
He’s cemented a legacy at Clemson that few can match. Not only that, he’s become a role model for others who weren’t born to be 6-5, 210. He’s proof that hard work, character and attention to detail can outmatch natural talent.
“He’s been a tremendous inspiration to a lot of young people because he had a dream and he didn’t let people tell him he couldn’t do it to deter him,” Illing said. “He could have went to some small colleges to play football or play baseball, but he had a dream and his dream was to play at Clemson one day and prove that he could play at the highest level. Not only has he done that, he’s conquered it and attributed majorly and been a big part of the best college football team in the history of college football, basically.”
Come late April when it’s NFL draft time, many from Myrtle Beach will be watching and waiting to hear his name called. He’s not projected as an early-round draft pick, and there’s probably even a chance he won’t get drafted at all.
But the guy will get a shot one way or another, and he’s proven that’s all he needs.
“Once you saw him in the heat of competition you realize the competitive spirit that he has,” Illing said. “He’s just a tremendous competitor. When he took his helmet off, he was a fun-loving, very humble kid. But when he put that helmet on and snapped both buckles, he became a fierce competitor. And he had a refuse-to-lose attitude.”
You just can’t count him out.