Clemson’s Renfrow makes cover of Sports Illustrated

clemfoot-sicoverHunter Renfrow grew up a few blocks from the Pine Lakes International Country Club, where Sports Illustrated was founded. Little did he know when he was playing pick-up games in the neighborhood that he would someday grace the cover of the iconic magazine.

But when the Jan. 16 issue lands on news stands and in mailboxes across the country, the Socastee High product will be front and center. The image of Clemson’s No. 13 making the last-second, game-winning and national championship-clinching touchdown catch in a 35-31 victory Alabama is now captured for eternity on a spot reserved for sports’ brightest stars.

Ironically, it was 35 years ago today that Clemson football made its SI cover debut. That time it was wide receiver Perry Tuttle hoisting the football in the air when the Tigers defeated Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to claim their only other national title.

Clemson football made three more SI cover appearances during their recent surge, but the latest one is a landmark for the Tigers and the Grand Strand. Just as the program’s rise to the top is a tale of hard work and perseverance paying off, Renfrow’s story of an underdog overcoming the odds embodies the spirit of the 2016 Tigers.

At Socastee High, Renfrow was one of those rare athletes to earn the label of a “player” – a term used to describe one with such natural talent and ability that they make the game look easy. As an option quarterback, he ran circles around bigger defenders. He also played defensive back, punter, and kick returner – everything but lead the band at halftime.

But at 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds, Renfrow was a football star in a chess club president’s body. He was highly recruited by smaller schools, and he could have chosen to play baseball at the college or pro level. But his dream was to play major college football, and Clemson agreed to make a “preferred walk-on” – a nice way of saying come earn your scholarship.

Renfrow quickly showed what he could do once he got his foot in the door. Surrounding by a five-star receiving corp and going up against blue-chip DBs who snickered at first when they looked at him across the line of scrimmage, Renfrow proved he belonged by taking his licks, running precision routes, and showing an incredible knack for catching everything thrown his direction.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney touched on Renfrow’s surprising success in the press conference after the national championship game. “I remember last year everybody was like ‘Why are we playing Hunter Renfrow?'” Swinney recalled. “Well, I’ve been to all the practices, and he is the best one out there.”

Like a true player, Renfrow has been at his best in the biggest games. His two touchdown catches in last year’s title game seemingly couldn’t be topped, but his clutch play in the sequel surpassed all expectations: 10 catches, 92 yards, two touchdowns receptions and a touchdown-saving tackle that forced the Tide to settle for a field goal and proved to be the difference in the final score.

Perhaps most impressive is the class Renfrow showed in both defeat and victory in those two games. His humility reflects well on his team, family, friends and hometown. It’s a performance well deserving a place of honor, and there are few honors in the world of sports than the cover of Sports Illustrated. Not bad for a little kid from Myrtle Beach.

Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated

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