There is no better walk-on story at Clemson than Hunter Renfrow’s, who walked on to Dabo Swinney’s football team in 2014 before earning a scholarship, catching the winning pass in the national championship game and now catching passes in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders.
Renfrow’s story is one of the best in the history of college football.
Wells Hoag’s story may never reach to the level of Renfrow’s, but it is a good story nonetheless and when he made the first two shots of his college career Thursday night at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, the 5,616 fans in attendance took notice.
“He did some good things today, and you never know, he might be a guy that sneaks out there,” head coach Brad Brownell said following the Tigers’ 87-51 victory over Alabama A&M.
With just eight scholarship players on the bench, due to injuries, Hoag entered the game with 10:57 to play. The first time he touched the basketball, he drove the lane a laid a shot off the backboard for his first career basket.
On the Tigers’ next offensive possession, he grabbed a rebound, following a Hunter Tyson miss, and then stepped back a drained a bucket from behind the arc. In a span of 38 seconds, he already dropped in five points.
“He has been working all of his life for this,” guard Al-Amir Dawes said. “When he came on staff, he just asked me, ‘Al, what do I have to do?’ I told him what to do and now he is out there having fun.”
Like Renfrow’s, Hoag’s story from walk-on to now playing is a good one. A bridge student at Clemson last year, he spent his time as a team manager. This year, the Tigers already had three walk-ons on the team in Paul Grinde, Parker Fox and O’Neil McBride, but they are all forwards or power forwards, so the coaches were grooming him to be a walk-on guard next season.
“He came in and said, ‘Whatever you need me to do, I will do it,” center Trey Jemison said. “He did exactly that, man. He came to practice and some days he just rebound and other days he was just there and then Coach said, ‘Hey man! It’s that time.’ And he was ready to go. That is huge for us.”
Brownell was honest with Hoag and told him they had enough walk-ons this year, but they asked that he be patient and be a part of the program as a manager. He told the sophomore they would get him into some drills and let him do somethings with the team as they went along.
“If you still want to really be a player, you are going to earn it,” Brownell recalled of their conversation. “I have done this with Riley McGillis and some other guys, you just don’t get to be on the team and travel and do all the stuff. You have to eat your vegetables first and find out if you really want to be a part of this.”
Hoag has had no problems with any of it. He has been exemplary in his manager’s role and handled those duties really well, and when he has worked out with the team he has been competitive and held his own.
“Our guys really like him, and that was evident by when he was playing today. Guys were excited for him,” Brownell said. “He is a tough competitive guy and he is a guy that can help our team.”
Hoag played seven and a half minutes, coming off the floor for a little bit, due to getting a little winded after making his first two shots.
“It was nervous energy, as well as the excitement of making a couple of buckets,” Brownell said.
Hoag and the Tigers will hit the road for the first time this year when they play TCU in the MGM Resorts Main Event Sunday. The game is scheduled to tip off at 10:30 p.m.
—photo courtesy of Clemson Athletic Communications
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