When the ball is going to Hunter Renfrow, Clemson co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach Jeff Scott doesn’t even have to watch.
That’s how dependable the redshirt sophomore slot receiver is in this offense.
“I can turn my back and get ready to coach up somebody for the next play or whatever because you can always count on him,” Scott said about Renfrow. “He always grades 95 percent or higher every single week.”
It’s been that way since Renfrow came out of nowhere as a walk-on receiver. And his knack for making big plays has given this offense a huge shot in the arm for the last two seasons. Despite a broken hand that sidelined him for four weeks this fall, Renfrow has still been Mr. Reliable.
“I’m just going out and playing football,” said Renfrow, who has 29 receptions for 353 yards and four touchdowns in nine games. “I just have fun coming to practice every day and I just try to think of it as one game at a time and not think of it as a whole season.”
Renfrow’s known for his three touchdowns in Clemson’s two College Football Playoff games last year, but he had a huge grab against Virginia Tech that extended a drive that ended with him catching the Tigers’ final touchdown in a 42-35 victory in the ACC Championship Game.
Don’t be surprised if the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder makes a huge play for the Tigers (12-1) in the Dec. 31 Fiesta Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal against Ohio State (11-1).
But it’s not just clutch catches at opportune times that have separated Renfrow from a talented pack of receivers. His ability to read defenses and relay his knowledge to coaches and teammates has proven to be a huge advantage for the Tigers.
“Regardless if he’s getting the ball or not, he’s going to find a way to help the team win and contribute to this offense,” Clemson QB Deshaun Watson said. “He does a great job of coming over and letting me know what the defense is doing and what he sees and making sure that we’re on the same page.”
Remember Artavis Scott’s overtime touchdown catch against N.C. State in Week 7? Renfrow ran the same route earlier in the game, noticed how the safety was covering him, alerted the coaches and Clemson went to that play when it needed a touchdown the most. It worked, and the Tigers escaped with a 24-17 victory.
“I like to be aware of what’s going on around me, not just what I’m doing but where everyone is going and try to find the soft spots in the defense,” Renfrow said. “That’s fun for me.”
Where does that come from? Well, Tim Renfrow, Hunter’s father, was a successful coach at Socastee High School in Myrtle Beach.
Jeff Scott, son for former South Carolina head coach and Clemson and Florida State assistant Brad Scott, knows the value of being around the game at a young age and “talking ball” every day.
“Obviously he’s talented and has got some physical gifts, change of direction, can catch the ball and do those type of things,” Scott said. “But also he’s has probably one the highest football IQs of any of the receivers that I’ve coached at Clemson.”
Renfrow says the way he grew up does help his recognition ability, but he was also a quarterback in high school, so he’s used to extensively learning the playbook.
Those are intangibles that can’t be undersold, co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. Having a player who has a “coach’s eye” and can “speak the language” comes in handy during the heat of a game.
“We sit up in the press box or on the sideline, we see it from one point of view, but they’re the ones that are living it, breathing it,” Elliott said. “When they can come back and tell you, they validate either what we saw or they can tell us, ‘No, here’s what I saw,' and we can quickly get to adjustments.”
Who: Clemson (12-1) vs. Ohio State (11-1)
When: 7 p.m., Dec. 31
Where: Glendale, Ariz.
Line: OSU by 3