By Eric Boynton / Spartanburg Herald-Journal
SAN JOSE, Calif. — The memes, the altered graphics and the one-liners make a constant loop around social media regarding the perceived advanced age of Clemson fifth-year grad student Hunter Renfrow.
There’s the often-seen quip he’s the only Tiger to have played on both of the school’s national championship teams (the first in 1981). Someone changed a TV graphic under his name to say it was his 17th season with the program. His Wikipedia page was altered to say he’d first joined the team during President Jimmy Carter’s administration.
Then there’s Renfrow’s personal favorite, a black-and-white photograph featuring his face superimposed in uniform standing next to former coach Danny Ford, who left Clemson after the 1989 season.
“I think it’s all funny,” Renfrow said. “I know I’ve been here for a long time and know if I was in (fans’) situation I’d make fun of me, too. They say time flies when you’re having fun and obviously that’s true, but I do feel like I’ve been here for a long time.”
Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, who turned 23 less than three weeks ago and is exactly one day younger than Renfrow, agrees with the sentiment that it feels as if his teammate has been around forever.
“It definitely feels like he’s been here 17 years,” Wilkins said, laughing. “He looks about as old as a 30-something-year-old person, too, with that receding hairline and dad body he’s rocking, but it works for him. That’s why he’s so good. He’s so much older than everybody else. I don’t know why Hunter gets a lot of crap for being here for so long, but I’m going to continue giving it to him because it’s hilarious.”
Renfrow is finally “retiring” from Clemson after Monday’s national championship game, the fourth and final time he’ll face an Alabama team against whom he initially emerged to make quite a name for himself. It was the start of one of the more improbable, likable and legendary careers in program history.
The former undersized and overlooked walk-on has become a folk hero and a source of inspiration for every athlete who doesn’t look the part to be successful at an elite level. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has described the somewhat nerdy-looking 5-foot-10, 180-pound receiver as looking like Clark Kent, but playing like Superman.
“No question his career is going to give hope to a lot of people, not just football players, but people in general that come from an underdog mentality, an underdog role, so to speak,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said.
Renfrow entered the 2015 playoffs as a redshirt freshman with 22 receptions for 345 yards and two touchdowns. He then combined for 11 catches for 147 yards and three touchdowns in the two CFP games, including seven for 88 and two touchdowns in the title game loss to Alabama.
During Clemson’s victory over the Crimson Tide in the following season’s rematch for the national championship, he caught 10 passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner from Deshaun Watson with one second remaining. The catch landed him on the national cover of Sports Illustrated, launching Renfrow forever into Clemson lore as well as into the national spotlight.
“I’ve lived two different lives (at Clemson),” Renfrow said. “One where I was a walk-on and had one set of friends and then there was a switch where they graduated and I got a little more notoriety and got a new set of friends. So it’s been cool to kind of live two different lifestyles. I’ve tried not to let (the notoriety) affect me too much.”
Just to help culminate his amazing college existence, Renfrow became engaged in mid-March to Clemson homecoming queen Camilla Martin, and they are scheduled to be wed April 19.
“The way he’s carried himself is what makes him special,” Elliott said. “You appreciate the plays he makes, but more importantly you appreciate the leadership, toughness and demeanor he brings every single day. He makes everybody else around him better. He pushes the credit to his teammates, which is something all of us can learn, especially in this day and age where everybody wants to talk about themselves.”