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Behind the ball with Darien Rencher

Lawton Hilliard, Contributor

Clemson running back Darien Rencher spoke with The Tiger ahead of the 2019 Palmetto Bowl. 

Name: Darien Rencher

Major: Psychology

Hometown: Anderson, SC

Position/Number: Running Back/#21

Favorite Place on Campus: Tables under library bridge, tables outside core, trees by Brackett

Favorite place downtown: Chipotle, Wings Over, All-In Cafe

Favorite Clemson tradition: Fans rushing the field after football games


Ryan Donahue: If there’s one thing that you’d want people to [say] about you, what would it be?

Darien Rencher: He was authentic. I feel like everything else can flow from that. Authentic in my faith, authentic in how I interacted, authentic in my work ethic…Just that he’s a real guy who is genuine, and I feel like that’s just kinda a rare trait. Especially in today’s age, we’ve got so many opportunities to be fake. When people meet me or interact with me, or have done life with me, I want people to say that I was authentic in how I interacted and what I said I believed and also the way I lived my life. I believe authentic people leave a legacy. That’s kinda what I want to be said about me. The way I lived my life mattered. They people that have impacted me have been authentic in the way the walked day to day. 

RDYou’re from right down the road in Anderson. Your dad was an athlete here. What is it like playing for your hometown team?

DR: A dream come true. It was always a dream, but then just like anything, you’ve got point A to point B, where you are, where you want to go… Just to see it all come to fruition, it’s a dream come true. Like I said, I grew up a Tiger, bled orange and white, didn’t know anything else. I’ve seen the program become what it is under Coach Swinney’s leadership, how much tradition is here, and how much the community has been changed. So for me, it was just perfect timing, perfect story. Then seeing my own journey here unfold has just been a beauty of its own. It has been a journey, it really has. The ups and downs and just the totality of it all, just sticking with it, putting one foot in front of the other, and just keeping perspective on the whole thing. All in all, it has been a blessing from God and just a dream come true. I knew if it weren’t for Him, this would not be possible. It really has been supernatural. 

RD: You mentioned briefly your injuries. I know you’ve torn both of you ACLs in your career. Can you talk about the intensive rehab process and then, where you are now with all the success you’re having at Clemson, looking back at that experience?

DR: It sucks, honestly. But you realize that’s just part of it. There’s some parts of your journey when you’re pursuing something… whether it’s a dream or a calling, if it was revealed to you what you would have to go through, you would probably never start on the journey. This is the part of the dream I did see: I saw scoring touchdowns, I saw getting put on scholarship, I saw all of these things… I wouldn’t choose [getting injured] going forward because no one chooses pain deliberately, but I wouldn’t change it looking back because it really has made me who I am. One of my mentor’s always says, nobody likes being tested, but everyone likes tested things. I feel like that has kinda been my journey with injuries and stuff like that. I feel like it’s made me who I am and I appreciated it. I know God had His hand in it. It did suck, and yeah, extensive. I tore my left one and then eight months later I tore everything in my left knee, so I was out for 16 months just trying to figure out life outside of ball, which is good. I feel like everybody needs to figure that out, who you are outside the game of football. I feel like it makes you appreciate the game of football when you get it back, for what it’s worth. 

RD: You mentioned growing up a Clemson fan, bleeding orange and white. When you were choosing where to go to school, was there ever a temptation to go somewhere else to play, or was it always, you were going to try to walk on here and play for the Tigers? 

DR: I think early on in middle school and freshman year, [coming to Clemson] could have happened. Then they took Tavien [Feaster]. They only took one [running] back in that class on scholarship. Obviously he was highly recruited, highly talented. When I was healthy, it was looking like some other ACC schools like Wake [Forest], I was really interested in Stanford, they showed some interest. Other small schools like Coastal [Carolina]. After I got hurt, all of those interests and offers went off the table, especially the second time. The first time was kinda like, oh let’s see what happens. The second time, I couldn’t even play my junior year which is a big year for recruiting. So everything just kinda went ghost. My senior year, I picked up South Carolina State, Jacksonville State, Coastal was still in the mix, some other small schools. I just always knew in my heart that I wanted to be at this level. I would have regretted looking back in four or five years and never giving it a shot…Yeah man, I thought about it. It was one of those things where deep down, I was only going to do it because I felt like there was no other option. But once this became an option, this was it. 

RD: So you’ve been here for a little while now, you’re a redshirt junior, you mentioned the growth of the program. What would you say is the biggest improvement the program has made since you’ve got here?

DR: It’s crazy how much I’ve become like Coach Swinney…I would say, I don’t know about improvement, but just staying true to what coach set out to do and what he wanted this program to be. More so it’s just a thing that has marked our program. I think success is so mystified sometimes. People think you have to do all these different things to get to here, it’s some sexy process…My first year was the inaugural year for Paw Journey. [Swinney] set out to give players opportunities and give them tools for life, and my experience has been nothing but that…He set out to win championships and that has been awesome. You know, I’m two for three in Nattys and I’ve won every ACC championship since I’ve been here. Hopefully we’ll handle business this year, who knows…I feel like I’ve seen this program just be consistent and stay true. Sometimes when you get success, that’s the biggest enemy of future success. You forget what got you there. 

RD: One of the coolest parts of the season for me was seeing you get into the endzone against Louisville. Then you came home a few weeks later on your 22nd birthday and scored against Wofford. Can you describe the feeling of getting into the endzone both on the road for the first time then again at home in front of the fans?

DR: You can’t make it up. Realistically, this could have happened other times. The hole could have opened up, I could have made the cut, whatever. For it to happen right now with everything that’s happening and everything that has happened, I just knew it was from God. It was so special. It couldn’t have been better timed, after all the adversity both the unseen and obviously some of the seen stuff that I’ve been through. The one on the road was just special. I was just like, man this couldn’t have happened at a more perfect time. It just made sense even though I wanted it sooner. Everybody wants more gratification sooner…It was just so much affirmation that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing and then, just to keep going. Then, 22nd birthday, I woke up that morning and saw my face on the front of the newspaper with Coach Swinney, and that was a God wink. I always wanted my first touchdown to be in the Valley to be in front of the student section, just if I could have it my way, why not? It was just perfect timing, just to punch one in in front of the home crowd, in front of my family, my friends, everyone I grew up with. To punch one in on my birthday, you can’t make it up if you wanted to. I just know God orchestrated all of that to happen. It was just special. 

RD: One of the things that is undervalued about this Clemson team is the talent of the offensive line. As a running back, you get to see firsthand just how good those guys are. Can you talk about how good that unit is and what it’s like playing behind them?

DR: I would say the most important but undervalued position is the O-line. They know it too. They’re just good dudes, they’re troopers, they’re our bodyguards, they’re all big teddy bears, I swear they are. Those guys are underappreciated. When I score, it doesn’t say the five O-linemen scored, it says Darien Rencher scored. Especially at Clemson, all of our guys are just super humble. They go about their business and they’re team guys. I feel like I’ve gotten to play with so many great guys that sacrifice the attention and notoriety for the betterment of the team. They’ve been just as instrumental to our success as anybody over the past four years since I’ve been here. They’ve legit become some of my best friends too because we’re always together…All those guys have just been very supportive, and honestly, they pave the way for all of us running backs and receivers and quarterbacks to make plays. 

RD: Looking ahead to this weekend, as a person that has always been a Clemson fan, what does the rivalry with South Carolina mean to you?

DR: Man, it’s special…It just means a lot more for everybody in the state because everybody in the state is tuned in. For me, I remember growing up and watching this game every year no matter what the records were because it just meant a lot to people. I’ve got some of my best friends that play for South Carolina’s team…I’ve got nothing but love for the guys down there, but I think the atmosphere that’s created because of the rivalry, it makes the game special. Just to be able to go play against them is a cool opportunity. It’s a little more business and a little more personal than other games. 

RD: So you guys have got the big Palmetto Bowl this weekend, ACC Championship coming up, and potentially some Playoff Games after that. What’s the team’s mindset going into this championship phase as you guys like to call it?

DR: It’s kinda just the same, but we feel like we’ve put in all this work to get here. It really is a journey from January to championship phase which we’re entering now. There’s been so much work in the spring, summer, camp, which camp is like a season of its own, then you actually go into the grind of the season. We just want to focus and finish. We’ve worked so hard to be in position and you see a lot of teams get to this point in the season and not focus and finish…You can see the finish line, you can see the trophies, you can see what could be… Whether they’ve doubted us or believed in us, it was always about what we believed about ourselves. So now, it’s just staying focused and having the will to finish because it’s hard to finish. Not everybody finishes. There’s only going to be one person that’s holding up the trophy. We believe we’re one of the best teams to be able to do that…It’s championship time, it’s a fun time. We’re enjoying it, but I would say focusing and finishing and just appreciating the journey of the season. For me, I’m just cherishing the guys. I’ve got a couple guys I’m going to spend my last games with. We just want to finish and focus in to send these guys out the right way. 

RD: One of the big narratives surrounding the team this year has been how you guys have been falling in the rankings a couple times despite being 11-0 and reigning National Champions. Is that something you guys use as motivation or is it something you block out?
DR: I feel like it’s a tension; it’s both…It’s still all about what we believe in, whether they believe in us or don’t believe in us…Obviously you don’t want to listen to it too much because it doesn’t really matter…It has given a narrative to the season where it’s like, man they don’t believe in us. Let’s prove them wrong and prove everybody that’s believing in us right…A narrative is a narrative but at the end of the day, we’ve got to control what’s going to be the true story in the end. So I feel like it’s been both. Obviously we block it out because we don’t listen to it too much. We start focusing on winning a National Championship. We can only win a National Championship if we win this week, next week, the week after that.

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