Hunter Renfrow's game-winning heroics prove Raiders rookie belongs in NFL


OAKLAND -- Hunter Renfrow is a legend at Clemson. As a sophomore, he caught the pass from Deshaun Watson that beat Alabama in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game. All told, he caught 186 passes for 2,133 yards and 15 touchdowns as a member of the Tigers. 

But there was a time when he wasn't a legend. A time when he was finding his way as a preferred walk-on slot receiver for Dabo Swinney's up-and-coming juggernaut. A time when he didn't know if he belonged. 

Then, No. 6 Notre Dame visited No. 12 Clemson on a rainy October Saturday in 2015. Renfrow, a freshman, was the third option for Watson, but he came up with an important 24-yard catch in the first quarter against the Fighting Irish, a game Clemson would narrowly win 24-22. 

Renfrow parlayed that catch into an incredible career in Death Valley that saw him become one of the most clutch receivers in modern college football. 

The Raiders drafted Renfrow in the fifth round and he immediately won the job as the starting slot receiver. But the transition to the NFL wasn't seamless, as Renfrow had just 14 catches for 115 yards and no touchdowns in his first six games for the Raiders. 

But he got on the board in Week 8 when he grabbed four passes for 88 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown in the Raiders' loss to the Texans. That moment gave Renfrow the same feeling he got on that wet October night in 2015. 

"In college, I felt like the Notre Dame game, I had a big catch in the Notre Dame game and then kind of felt like I belonged," Renfrow said after the Raiders' 31-24 win over the Lions. "That was similar to that one. Just being able to go out there and feel like you can contribute and go out there and win games. For me, it's never about how many catches or touchdowns, it's at the end of the day do I feel like I've done enough to be a good teammate and to go win games for our team. The more we play, the more we do, hopefully I can continue to do that. "

Renfrow's confidence in himself, and quarterback Derek Carr's belief in him, was on full display Sunday at the Coliseum. With the Raiders and Lions tied at 24 late in the fourth quarter, the Raiders got the ball at their own 25-yard line with 5:16 to play. Carr drove the Raiders down the field to the Detroit 9-yard line. 

On third-and-goal, Carr bought time, rolled left and spotted Renfrow break free near the pylon. Carr fired a strike to Renfrow who nabbed the ball and got both feet down before falling out of bounds, his second career touchdown that gave the Raiders the lead and sent the Coliseum into a frenzy. 

"Something we've been working on is just become more available," Renfrow said of the game-winning score. "When a play breaks down be able to create a new play and Derek did a phenomenal job. Offensive line did a good job to protect and let him get outside the pocket there. From there it's kind of backyard football so it worked out." 

Over his last two games, Renfrow has caught 10 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns. 

While the touchdown against the Texans and the game-winning grab Sunday might have been Renfrow's Notre Dame moment in the NFL, Carr never had a doubt the rookie would be great. 

"I had it with him from the moment I met him," Carr said of his trust in Renfrow. "His love for football, you can see it in his eyes. His love for team. I've said it before and I'll say it again, he does not care who catches that last ball. I promise you that. He doesn't care if he gets one catch at all. He just wants to win. When guys are that selfless, you ask them to do selfless things in the run game, ask them to do selfless things in the pass game, clearing somethings out, it really feels good when a guy who's very selfless makes a game-winning touchdown catch." 

[RELATED: Oft-criticized Raiders D comes up big in win vs. Lions]

The rookie transition behind him, Renfrow has cemented himself as a go-to target for Carr over the past two games. 

He belonged at Clemson and he belongs in the NFL. That much has been made clear over the last two weeks. 

On Sunday, he showed his clutch gene made the trip from South Carolina to the Bay Area with him.

Contact Us