As Clemson tries to get back on the right track over its next two games before a challenging October stretch, the Tigers will be without one of their stars from last year’s national championship game.
Hunter Renfrow, a former walk-on who hauled in seven receptions for 88 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama in January, will miss multiple weeks after breaking his hand against Troy last Saturday. He suffered the injury while catching a 35-yard touchdown pass.
“He could play with it, but the injury would make it more difficult to hold on to the ball when he tried to tuck it away,” head coach Dabo Swinney said in a Monday release. “He will have surgery to repair it and miss a few weeks.”
Renfrow once again established himself as a big-play threat in the first two games of this season, logging four receptions for 62 yards and two scores as Clemson opened up the year 2-0. His presence on the field will be missed, but that doesn’t mean his shoes can’t be filled.
Now, sophomore Ray-Ray McCloud has the opportunity to show what he can do.
McCloud will get the start this weekend as the Tigers gear up for a tune-up game against South Carolina State. His second career start will provide a glimpse of what the team’s future looks like at receiver.
Coming out of Sickles High School in Tampa, McCloud was a prized prospect in the 2015 recruiting class. He gave his verbal commitment to Dabo Swinney and his staff during the summer before his senior year. He flirted with Auburn late in the process and ultimately signed with Clemson.
The 5-10, 180-pound standout showed flashes of greatness as a freshman. The Tigers used him in a variety of ways — as a pass-catcher, a runner and return man. While his 29 receptions for 251 yards and a touchdown were respectable, given that he was playing behind some of the ACC’s best receivers, he was particularly impressive returning kicks, averaging 31.9 yards per return on seven attempts. Had a knee injury not limited him to 12 games, he could have made even more of an impact.
The versatile playmaker is on pace for a much bigger sophomore campaign. Not only did he notch nine catches for 94 yards in his first two outings this fall — including seven grabs for 86 yards against the Trojans in Week 2 — he’s returned three punts for an average of 32 yards per return. Of course, a mental lapse on one of those returns last weekend got him on highlight reels for the wrong reasons.
Still, McCloud now has a chance to prove he’s ready for a more prominent role in Clemson’s receiver corps. It doesn’t hurt that he’ll catch passes thrown by one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, Deshaun Watson. It’s also a plus that the Tigers’ group of wideouts includes Artavis Scott and Mike Williams, who are sure to draw attention from opposing defenses, giving McCloud more opportunities to get the ball in space.
Scott and Williams, both juniors, could entertain the idea of taking off for the NFL following this season. If either or both depart for the next level, McCloud will be among the players contending for a starting spot in 2017.
The next few weeks are the perfect time for McCloud to show he deserves a first-team spot for the long term.