Clemson’s ultimate walk-on

Clemson’s ultimate walk-on

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Clemson’s ultimate walk-on

It is only fitting Hunter Renfrow can break a school record on Senior Day

When he sees Hunter Renfrow walk through the door for practice at the Poe Indoor Practice Facility, Tony Elliott thinks to himself, “This guy should not be playing college football.”

Though Renfrow is 5-foot-10 and weighs 180 pounds, he is the epitome of what a college football player should be. He is savvy. He is disciplined. He is fundamentally sound. He is smart, and most importantly, he is a football player.

“He is going to break a bunch of records,” Elliott, Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator, said smiling. “Hopefully, this weekend he can break a bunch of records. It just goes to show that he is consistent, and he knows what he is talking about.”

With a catch against Duke, Renfrow can break Artavis Scott’s Clemson record of consecutive games with a reception. Renfrow enters today’s 7 p.m., kickoff with 38 consecutive games with at least one catch.

It’s fitting Renfrow will get the opportunity to break the record on Senior Day at Death Valley, considering how much he has meant to the Clemson program since he walked on back in 2014.

Renfrow will be one of 23 seniors who will be honored prior to tonight’s game. He is part of a class that can become the ACC’s all-time winner with a victory and just the third senior class in college football history to win 51 or more games in a four-year career.

Like defensive tackle Christian Wilkins is on the defensive side of the football, Renfrow is the most respected player on the offensive side. Each day he comes to practice with a workman-like attitude like no one else.

Even when he was a redshirt freshman in 2015, he garnered that same kind of respect from his teammates. Scott said he would sit over on the sidelines and watch him run routes, so he could pick up a few tips. Former cornerback Mackenzie Alexander always wanted to go up against him in practice because Renfrow’s route running made him better at defending other receivers.

Former linebacker Dorian O’Daniel said he became better in pass coverage because he had to go up against Renfrow in practice every day.

The ultimate compliment the Myrtle Beach, S.C., native got was when Alabama head coach Nick Saban worked his entire defensive game plan around stopping Renfrow in last year’s Sugar Bowl.

“In the meeting rooms, game recognizes game,” Elliott said. “So, all the guys in there see how he works every single day and they see how he performs. They probably will not say it, but I know, I was a wideout and I played with Derrick Hamilton and those guys and they were pretty special. I was watching them every day, so I could figure out how I could get better. So, those guys are watching Renfrow and seeing how he plays the game.”

Renfrow plays with a mindset that has allowed him to become one of the greatest receivers in Clemson history. His 172 receptions rank sixth all time and he can move into the top five with six more catches, passing his former teammate Mike Williams on the all-time list. He already has more catches than Clemson greats Hamilton, Rod Gardner, Terry Smith, Perry Tuttle and Jerry Butler.

He needs just 26 yards tonight to become just the 13th player in Clemson history to amass 2,000 receiving yards in a career. Also, Renfrow’s 15 career touchdown receptions ranks 13th in school history.

“Really, the biggest thing those guys take from him is just how he plays the game within the game,” Elliott said. “It’s not just, ‘Okay, I’m running this route because coach said run this route. I’m running this route because it ties into the influence and if I do this, I can get a guy to do this.’ He just knows the nuances of his position.”

When he thinks back and looks at what he has accomplished, including his game-winning catch in the national championship game two years ago, Renfrow admits he pinches himself from time to time to make sure he is not dreaming.

“I obviously remember I was a walk-on, but I forget sometimes because it has been so long since I have been one,” he said. “You just feel like you belong with the guys. But you do pinch yourself. For me, even if I got a scholarship, it was never really about the scholarship. It was about accomplishing the things that I wanted to accomplish and winning some games.”

Renfrow occasionally gets messages on social media or someone will ask him at Dabo Swinney’s high school camps about becoming a walk-on and what his secret to success has been. But, as the Clemson senior tells them, there really is no secret. It just comes down to the individual and how bad they want it.

“What I always tell them is that it is kind of unique at Clemson,” he said. “It is a special place, but anywhere you go, it is all about the little things. It is all about having fun in the moment and having fun playing the game.

“Take that mentality of being a walk-on every day, whether it is in football or whatever you do, that is something I can kind of take with me the rest of my life. I came in kind of undervalued. Nobody knew who I was. That is going to kind of help me in the next stage of life, whether that is in business or whatever, just kind of take that and have that chip on my shoulder.”

Like Renfrow, Elliott was also a former walk-on wide receiver, as was head coach Dabo Swinney. However, if you asked them both who the ultimate walk-on is, they both will give the same answer.

“I think we have to give it to him,” Elliott said.

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