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Nov 22, 2018

A SENSE OF BELONGING

By: Elaine Day

Note: The following appears in the South Carolina gameday football program


Hunter Renfrow glanced to the sidelines for the play call, took his position on the five-yard line and waited. Snap, break for the goal line, cut to the outer edge at the last second, turn, catch the Deshaun Watson pass and fall into the endzone for the touchdown.

The scoreboard lit up in favor of the boys in orange…with Renfrow’s squad taking a 7-0 lead over the White team in the Spring Game. Not too shabby of a way to unofficially open the 2016 season, Renfrow thought.
But he had no idea how famous that same play would become exactly nine months from that April afternoon.

• • • • •

Growing up in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Renfrow spent his fall seasons on the pitch playing soccer, as his parents did not let him play football until he was in middle school. But that did not stop him from falling in love with the sport at an early age. He has fond memories of playing with his brother and father, also his high school coach, in the family’s front yard, learning the offensive routes and schemes by blocking and making moves on trees.

It was there that a dream of joining the Tiger program started to develop.

It was a dream that was slightly derailed during his junior year of high school, when the No. 6 outfield prospect in South Carolina by Diamond Prospects “flirted with” playing baseball long term for a summer. His competitive desire to impact the game on every play won out in the end, though.

“I got into football season, and I was like, ‘I’m crazy…I’m sticking with football.’”

The dream re-established, the then 5’10”, 150-pound wideout accepted an invitation to Clemson’s camp the summer prior to his senior year of high school with the goal of securing a scholarship.

“The summer before my senior year, I had a few offers, but nothing big, and for whatever reason, Clemson invited me, all 150 pounds, to camp. I thought they were going to offer me a scholarship. It was broken into two sessions, and I did alright in the first one, and coach (Dabo) Swinney offered me a preferred walk-on spot between them.

“I remember on the way back home that I was really upset and got a little teary-eyed, because my dream was to play at Clemson and be on scholarship, and felt like I belonged. But I made the decision in my car…I said, ‘This could be a good thing. I have to take what I’ve earned. Nothing is given to me.’ And I’ve taken that with me and will take that with me for the rest of my life.”

So he took his preferred walk-on spot and redshirted his freshman season in 2014, continuing to work as hard as possible to prove to his teammates and coaches that he belonged. The dedication paid off, as the scholarship came just before the 2015 season.

And Renfrow did not disappoint.

He was fifth on the team with 33 receptions for 492 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games (10 starts) that year. But more notably, he earned co-player-of-the-game honors with Deshaun Watson after being on the receiving end of two of Watson’s three passing touchdowns in the national title game against Alabama.

He ultimately posted 11 catches for 147 yards and three touchdowns in the Tigers’ two playoff games that year, and the college football world was put on notice.

This guy belonged.

• • • • •

Renfrow glanced to the sidelines for the play call, took his position on the five-yard line and waited. Snap, break for the goal line, cut to the outer edge at the last second, turn, catch the Deshaun Watson pass and fall into the endzone for the touchdown.

The scoreboard lit up in favor of the boys sporting Tiger Paws…with Renfrow’s squad taking a 34-31 lead over the Alabama Crimson Tide with one second remaining in the 2016 national championship game.

The rest is history.

Looking back on it now, Renfrow knows that catch was the one he’ll be remembered for, but he takes more pride in how he went about the everyday preparation and execution.

“It’s definitely a defining moment, but I’ve tried to be available whenever my time comes. There were a lot of plays that could’ve gone the other way. If I didn’t make them, we might not have been in that situation, and that’s what I pride myself on from 2016. In order to get to the next step and achieve bigger goals, it’s about the process and taking advantage of the journey the whole way.”

Those other plays have added up in a big way, as he has 173 receptions for 1,981 yards and 15 touchdowns in 51 games (43 starts) in his career. Thirty-one of those receptions and four of those touchdowns have come on the biggest stage…his five playoff games.

With a start and a reception against Duke on Senior Day last weekend, he set two school records, 39 consecutive games with a reception and 43 career starts at wide receiver.

Not too shabby for a former walk-on.

“I’m not a big legacy guy, but if I leave one, it would be that you go in every day, your teammates appreciate you and you’re valuable to them…that they’d miss you if you weren’t there.”
And that is all he ever wanted…that feeling of belonging.

“I’d say I’ve found it here,” he said with a smile.

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