The NFL playoffs kick off Saturday afternoon with Raiders-Bengals, and Post columnist Steve Serby caught up with Las Vegas wide receiver Hunter Renfrow for some Q&A:
Q: Sum up Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia.
A: Rich Bisaccia is a leader of men. He is an unbelievable guy. He cares about us. Part of the reason why we want to win, and a lot of the reasons, is not for us, it’s for him. That’s the type of person he is, we want to do anything to see him succeed, because he cares for us on a personal level more so than a professional level. And I know that’s hard to do in the NFL, with people changing and everything going on, but I can’t tell you how many times people have been cut and he just called to check on ’em, make sure they know what they’re doing with their next move, and give ’em advice … he’s just a really great guy, and you want to see him succeed.
Q: You guys would like to play for him next year?
A: Without a doubt. I think we need to get that narrative going more and more.
Q: This has been such a turbulent season in Las Vegas. What were your thoughts on Jon Gruden (forced to resign after racist, homophonic and sexist emails were revealed) and Henry Ruggs III (drunk-driving car crash that resulted in a woman’s death)?
A: Obviously, we love Coach Gruden a lot. He definitely shouldn’t have said the things that he said. It was definitely a different world when he said ’em to an extent. But he’s a great guy, and we all make mistakes. I think instead of pushing people down when they make mistakes, let’s try to help ’em back up. He’s not a bad person. Hopefully he gets another chance, eventually.
And then, Henry is the same way. Henry has never shown any signs of making a mistake, especially like that. We love Henry as well. Just because his mistake was more costly than the mistakes I make, I don’t think you condemn people for that. It’s definitely a tough situation. And situations they’re both gonna have to pay consequences for. But it’s been tough on the guys on the team.
Q: What do you like best about this Cardiac Kids Raiders team?
A: It reminds me of the 2016 national championship team at Clemson; we won seven games by a touchdown or less. These overtime games, it builds a mentality of we can overcome anything, and we can piece anything together at the end of the game, no matter how the beginning is going, just get us to overtime and we’ll have a chance.
Q: What makes Derek Carr tick?
A: I think his relationship with Christ definitely makes him tick. He understands that the game of football is important but it’s not the most important thing in life. He understands his priorities, so there’s a lot of freedom that comes with that. You don’t have to play uptight, you don’t have to worry about all the questions of how this affects his legacy or if he makes a bad throw on how people will respond because he knows who he is. And then in the huddle, he’s the same guy every day. … Same guy on fourth down with the season on the line as he is on a Wednesday walk-through practice. Just a great guy, and someone we can all trust and look to in hard times.
Q: How would you describe his leadership style?
A: Definitely lead by example. Just his consistency every single day. But in addition to that, he can call people out when he needs to. He does a good job of not trying to show people up in front of one another, but if there’s something that needs to be said, he will address it, but a lot of times he’ll address it in private with that person so that they don’t feel some type of way.
Q: Darren Waller?
A: I didn’t know him before when he was in Baltimore, obviously, but just the stories I’ve heard where he’s come from [alcohol and opioid addiction] and really how he’s developed these last three years, he’s been such a leader for this team, a voice to talk to if anything’s gone wrong. He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had. He’s developed into a person that I know he’s proud of.
Q: Mad Maxx Crosby?
A: He’s a very low-key superstar. He doesn’t require anything, he just comes to work every d ay, puts in the work, gives everything he has every single day, and then you see that out on the field. He never complains, he never has a bad day, he just goes out and is his best every single day, and it’s inspiration to watch.
Q: What does your 103-catch season mean to you?
A: It’s cool to be mentioned with Darren and Tim Brown, and those guys, but for me, I could care less. That’s not why I play the game.
Q: What are you most proud of as a receiver?
A: Just being my best whenever the team needs me. Whether it’s a big game, small game, doesn’t matter, they’re all big. And whether it’s the first quarter or the fourth quarter, I try to be the same guy. I don’t care if there’s one person at the game (laugh), it’s COVID and there’s nobody at the game, or there’s 80,000, it really doesn’t matter, I’m gonna give everything I have for my teammates.
Q: If I wanted to build the perfect receiver, what should I take from Hunter Renfrow?
A: I know this is not a technical answer, but just the ability to dream … the ability to look out and believe past my current circumstances … not where I am, but where I want to be. And then have the vision to go out and do everything I can to achieve it. If it’s get open against this guy, or I want to run a certain route like this, it really bothers me until I can accomplish it.
Q: Why did you have to walk on at Clemson?
A: I had to walk on ’cause I was 5-foot-10, 150 pounds soaking wet. I had a long way to go. I really didn’t have any less confidence just walking on, maybe more confidence because I had way more freedom. Clemson didn’t owe me anything. And I didn’t owe them anything in terms of scholarship, and so I could go out there and just have the time of my life and get better every day and not have to put any results in at first.
Q: Describe the feeling of catching that 2-yard TD pass from Deshaun Watson with one second left against Alabama that won Clemson the 2016 national championship.
A: Just a dream come true. I was a Clemson fan growing up. My mom went to Clemson, my granddad went to Clemson, and so in that moment, I was just as much of a fan as I was a player. I was having the time of my life and I wasn’t really thinking about repercussions, you know if I were to drop the ball or anything like that. I would just go out there and try to make a play for my teammates.
Q: Were you the first read?
A: I was. It’s interesting, we ran that play for the first touchdown in the spring game that year. So it was the first touchdown and the last touchdown so it was pretty neat.
Q: Tell me about the doubters and how that motivates you.
A: There’s always doubters, there’s still doubters. There’s doubters I’m sure every time you post an article, right, that say, “That wasn’t a very good article, you didn’t dig in deep enough.” We all have doubters, it’s just who you choose to listen to. I try to listen to ’em when I need some motivation, but whenever I don’t need motivation like most of the time, I just go out there and listen to myself, listen to my teammates, and that’s really all that matters.
Q: Can you give me an example of a time where you needed the motivation?
A: I used to go back on the message boards in college every now and then. Clemson has their message boards, whether it’s Tiger Illustrated or TigerNet or something like that. If I thought I had a little bit of success, I’d go read what people wrote about how I’d never play at Clemson or how I should never be on the field over this guy or that guy, this 5-star or that 5-star, and that just gives you a little motivation. In the summertime when I’m working out, or whenever I’m dreaming about the season, I definitely keep that in the back of my mind.
Q: Your on-field mentality?
A: My mentality is just to take what they give me. Don’t do too much.
Q: Do you study guys like Cooper Kupp and Davante Adams?
A: I definitely watch ’em. During the season, I take things that they do schematically similar to us, and try to take things and work on routes and kinda think about how they ran ’em and how I can apply it to my game. I love watching Cooper Kupp. He’s changing the game somewhat with how he does things outside his frame. Davante’s a little different receiver than I am. But it’s still fun watching how easily he gets open with such a little effort (chuckle).
Q: If you can pick the brain of any receiver in NFL history?
A: Being a Raider, probably Freddie B [Biletnikoff]. I do get to ask him a lot of questions ’cause he’s at practice a lot. I’m kinda spoiled.
Q: If you can test your skills against any cornerback in history?
A: Probably no one good, ’cause I want to win (chuckle). Growing up, Darrelle Revis was the best. And Charles Woodson, being a Raider legend, would be pretty cool as well.
Q: Are you aware there were 16 receivers drafted ahead of you in 2019?
A: I was not. I knew there was a bunch.
Q: Do you track any of their careers?
A: Yeah, I track some of ’em just because from a competitor standpoint you want to beat ’em. But I’m not sitting here looking back, I’m just trying to be the best I can be, and I really mean that. On draft day, I was not comparing myself to others. I just wanted the chance, I didn’t know if I was gonna get drafted at all.
Q: Deshaun Watson?
A: When I think of him, I think of just him being poised all the time and just laser-like focus when the game’s on the line. He got better as the game went.
Q: Trevor Lawrence?
A: I think even more laid-back than Deshaun. So the difference was Deshaun, when the switch got flipped, he was laser-like focused, Trevor never had to like flip the switch, he was always just so laid-back, regardless if it was the biggest moment, regardless of whatever happened. He was always just the same laid-back person. But Trevor’s an awesome human being. I love Trevor.
Q: How good can he be?
A: He’s amazing. I think one of the best things for him this year was going out, just slinging it, getting a bunch of picks … obviously that’s a blueprint for success in the NFL if you can come back the next year and show that you’ve improved. I think Peyton Manning did it, and some other guys. I think the best thing for him this year was to just throw and see what he could get away with, and then just get some continuity around him ’cause if he could do that, he showed in the last game against the Colts he’s gonna be special.
Q: Tee Higgins, you’ll be facing him on Saturday.
A: Tee is a superstar. Great ball skills, a great person as well, just fun-loving, nice to everybody. And then as a player, he’s fast and he’s twitchy, but the thing that jumps out to me about Tee is he can track the ball and make great catches last minute and turn his body, can torque his body to make those catches, which is something that a lot of people his size can’t do.
Q: You played with Dexter Lawrence at Clemson.
A: Great guy, loves to compete, and really just a big teddy bear if you get to know him.
Q: Do you think you could have played Major League Baseball?
A: I do. I don’t say that in a cocky sense. I was not really a power guy. I played center field and I took really good angles at the ball and I got really good jumps off the bat. And a decent base-runner. But I was definitely a contact guy, and my strength was definitely getting reads off the bat and getting good jumps on the ball.
Q: What drives you?
A: Family. My daughter, my wife and then my brothers and sisters and extended family and all that. Everyone involved.
Q: Boyhood idol?
A: Probably Sammy Watkins. He went to Clemson, he was like my favorite receiver. He was just like a legend to me.
Q: Raiders fans?
A: Raider fans are loyal. They don’t even know sometimes why they’re cheering, they’re so loyal.
Q: (Brewers outfielder) Hunter Renfroe the baseball player?
A: I’ll get some people tweeting at me and he’ll get some people tweeting at him whenever we have good games. That’s how we know our counterpart had done well.
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: Jesus Christ; George Washington; Alexander The Great.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: “The Patriot.”
Q: Favorite actor?
A: Steve Carell.
Q: Favorite meal?
A: Chicken fingers and rice and gravy.
Q: What kind of atmosphere are you expecting in Cincinnati?
A: Cold (laugh). But it’s kinda like taking a test, you get so locked in that you don’t even realize what’s going on around you.
Q: How would you characterize the mindset of your team right now?
A: The mindset of our team is anything can happen. Let’s go win this week and then just take one week at a time.