Clemson's Hunter Renfrow describes what it's like to come up big in national championship
The text messages about Hunter Renfrow flooded into Jeff Scott’s smart phone before he ever met the kid.
Scott, Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator, has deep recruiting ties to the state of South Carolina. High school coaches kept touting Renfrow’s speed, quickness and savvy, playing at Socastee High in Myrtle Beach.
Then Scott finally met Renfrow, which prompted misgivings about a high school senior with an eighth-grader’s body.
Scott and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney pride themselves on being open-minded. Scott walked on at Clemson and Swinney did the same at Alabama. So they offered Renfrow, a high school quarterback, the chance to be a preferred walk-on with the Tigers. “Preferred walk-on” means you aren’t just a tackling dummy, and the coaches won’t cut you at the first excuse.
Renfrow had other options, mostly at then-Southern Conference schools, including Appalachian State. But he was intrigued by playing at Clemson, particularly since several members of his family attended there. Most importantly, the offense Clemson ran under then-offensive coordinator Chad Morris fit Renfrow’s potential as a slot receiver.
Three years later, this kid who showed up weighing 150 pounds at 5-foot-11 is listed as a starter in Monday’s national championship game against top-ranked Alabama. A redshirt sophomore this season, Renfrow has 34 receptions for 403 yards and four touchdowns. His head coach says he’ll play in the NFL in the mold of former New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker.
“I think he’s going to be a great NFL player someday. Eventually he’ll be a 300-pound lifter and (weigh) 188. He’s a baller. Football players come in all shapes and sizes. When you step on the field, it’s not always about how big you are,” Swinney said.
“When you meet Hunter, never in a million years would you pick him out” as a major-college football player, Swinney said. “He’s still weak comparatively, but he’s Hercules compared to when he got here. That strength has added confidence. He’s a very smart and savvy and influential player.”
Alabama would be hard-pressed to disagree. Renfrow, who has sub 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash, had two touchdown receptions in last year’s title game.
Sarkisian salvaging career
After spending much of this season as a consultant with Alabama’s coaches, former Southern Cal and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian will serve as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator Monday night.
Alabama coach Nick Saban chose not to have offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin stay on this week, after Kiffin took the head-coaching position at Florida Atlantic. Sarkisian appeared to be the heir apparent for Kiffin’s former job, and Saban sped the process.
Sarkisian, 42, was fired by Southern Cal after two alcohol-related incidents. He said Saturday he never doubted he’d return to major-college football and believes that he’ll again be a head coach.
The intrigue in this is how much or little Sarkisian will change the Crimson Tide’s play-calling Monday. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables doubts it will be a significant change, in that Kiffin and Sarkisian worked together at Southern Cal and Alabama, but the Tigers’ coaching staff has researched eventualities.
“I feel like there are more similarities than differences. They’re not on two different planets,” Venables said of Sarkisian and Kiffin. “Sometimes you just have to do what you do, and make some adjustments as the game goes on.”
Charlotte’s Alabama connection
There is a Charlotte connection to Alabama’s undefeated season, though you likely won’t see him on the field Monday night.
Blaine Anderson played multiple sports at Myers Park. He’s in his second and final season with the Crimson Tide as a walk-on defensive back.
“Looking back on it, it’s flown by,” Anderson said Saturday. “I’m always going to talk about these guys until the day I die.
“It took a lot of running and sweating and waking up early at 5:30 to ride my bike over to the complex. The grind, you’ve got to love it, because if you don’t love it, you don’t have the heart for it, you’ll find yourself weeded out.
“To all the young kids who think they’re not big enough, who don’t have the experience to be involved in D-1 (Division I), it is possible if you put your mind and heart into it.”
Anderson is graduating with a dual major in business and computer science. He’s intrigued by the prospect of coaching and might look into a graduate assistantship to explore that option.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell