Defensive lines hold big futures
Quality defensive linemen are just about the toughest find in football.
“Well, I do think that most people would agree, whether it’s the NFL draft or trying to find guys and recruit guys when they’re in high school that have the size and athleticism to be effective in terms of their power, ability to strike, as well as athletic enough to pass rush,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “I think it’s even more difficult now with sort of the spread because there’s more loose plays, plays in space, where it requires guys to be able to run and play in space.”
No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson belie conventional wisdom – which helps explain why the Crimson Tide and Tigers are playing in the College Football Playoff for the fourth straight season and third time in the national championship game.
The 2015 title game between the Tide and Tigers featured 10 defensive linemen who were drafted in 2016-18, including six from Alabama. Two more from Clemson who played in that game – defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and end Austin Bryant – will be picked in April.
Wilkins and Bryant are part of a group of 10 edge rushers and interior defen- sive linemen who will be at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, for Monday night’s national championship game who are likely to be selected in the NFL draft this year.
“The fact that we could have three to four, maybe five, first-round picks off two defensive lines, that just doesn’t happen,” said Matt Miller, a draft analyst for Bleacher Report. “Alabama has three start-
in 2014. That’s 118 years after the Tigers fielded their first team. This might seem contrary to how social media is reacting to Renfrow’s fourth College Football Playoff appearance.
The memes have rolled in, everything from Renfrow in a black-and-white photo with former Clemson coach Danny Ford to a mock ESPN graphic that notes Renfrow “has been a senior for the past 17 years.”
“I’ve been hearing it all year,” Renfrow said with a grin. “It’s not anything new. My teammates have given me a bunch of grief for it. But I’m just ready to have fun this last game. Just be able to go out there with my teammates and enjoy playing the game of football. And enjoy playing with my teammates.”
His actual final game is Monday against Alabama in the national championship. Renfrow’s forever synonymous with the Crimson Tide on this stage since catching the winning touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson in the title game in January 2017.
It was one of his 184 grabs as a Tiger. That’s good for fifth-most in school history. He owns the school record for consecutive games with a catch (42) and starts by a receiver (46).
Not bad for a former walk-on.
“He’s going to be one of the legends to leave here because he obviously caught the game-winning ball in the national championship,” said junior offensive tackle Sean Pollard. “I know that’s his legacy, but he’s Mr. Reliable. I know ESPN has deemed him as that. You throw him the ball, he’s gonna catch it — unless it’s like 10 feet over his head.
“He’s a hard worker, he just goes about his business and just shows up on the field every week.”
“Hunter means a whole lot to us,” said sophomore running back Travis Etienne. “He comes in here each and every day and works hard. He might not be the biggest, strongest, most ripped guy here, but he comes here and works his butt off every day. Just having a guy like that on our team to motivate us and push us, it gives us the belief we can do anything we want to.”
Renfrow is listed at 5foot-10, 185 pounds. Christian Wilkins, Clemson’s All-American defensive tackle, added “Dad bod” and “receding hairline” to Renfrow’s scouting report.
“But it works for him,” Wilkins said. “I guess that’s why he’s so good, he’s so much older than everybody else.” He laughed.
“I’m just teasing,” Wilkins continued. “I don’t know why Hunter gets a lot of crap for being here so long. I’m actually a day older than Hunter. But it’s just funny he gets so much crap about it.
Nearly every Clemson player who spoke with the media ahead of the team’s departure for the game admitted they’ve enjoyed the recent wave of Renfrow jokes. The mock ESPN graphic was voted most popular, but others were appreciated.
“I like the meme of him kind of shuffling through a whole bunch of different backgrounds,” said junior linebacker Tre Lamar. “There’s like the Egyptian pyramids and stuff. I like that one.”
“I like the one that compare him to other wide receivers,” said senior center Justin Falcinelli. “It’ll be like, ‘This guy did this’ and it’s a picture of Hunter holding a bag of fruit.”
Soon, though, it’ll all end. The memes, the catches, the games. One of the greatest stories in college football has one final chapter.
“I’ll still be around,” Renfrow said. “I think I’ll probably train (for the NFL Draft) around the Clemson area. So I don’t know if it will really sink in until next year when I’m gone. I’ll still be around my teammates and stuff like that.
“But hopefully we can finish it the right way and hold on to that feeling a little longer.”
HUNTER RENFROW IS FOREVER SYNONYMOUS WITH THE CRIMSON TIDE ON THIS STAGE SINCE CATCHING THE GAME WINNER IN THE TITLE GAME IN 2017.
Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell is part of a defensive line that lived up to preseason hype in helping the Tigers reach the national championship game.
Clemson's Hunter Renfrow listens to a question during media day Saturday leading up his final game Monday against Alabama in the national championship.