OAKLAND, Calif. -- Probably more so than any Terp in town this week for the Foster Farms Bowl, Maryland junior punter Nate Renfro is playing with mixed emotions. In fact, they are probably swirling all about his head now as the Terps take in San Francisco around the holidays and all its splendor, as well as prepare for Stanford on Dec. 30 in Santa Clara, Calif.
You see, Renfro is playing his final game as a Terrapin after graduating early (last week) with plans to pursue a degree in sports management in the South. Renfro will soon be transferring to a school closer to his Brentwood, Tenn., home, one he has not decided upon yet. Clemson, Tennesse, ETSU, Auburn and others are on his list, while Renfro was named to the Big Ten's All-Academic team this season with his 3.3 GPA.
And it's all about family and home for Renfro, who this week will not only welcome his parents, but now his brother and grandparents, who have also decided to join in for his final game. There's also extended family in San Jose, Calif., who may make it to the game as well. And there's a high school teammate, Stanford junior starting center Graham Shuler, also from Brentwood Academy, who he'll be tangling with when the two teams meet up for the first time ever.
"I couldn't ask for a better way to go out," Renfro said at the Terps' first practice at Laney College in Oakland, Calif., on Dec. 26. "I have never been to California before, so it's exciting to be able to come out here for the first time and spend it with these guys. And hopefully I'll be able to talk some smack [laugh] to him [Schuler] afterwards, rub it in if we beat them."
But what tugs on his heartsrings more these days, and what has prompted him, in part, to get back closer to home was a personal blow he experienced this fall and was powerless to do much about. The 12-hour drive has always been tough for Renfro and his family and friends to reconnect, but last month when Maryland was at Wisconsin for the Terps regular season game it truly hit home.
"One of my best friends growing up, I knew him since kindergarten, he passed away this fall and I wasn't able to make it home [for the funeral]," Renfro said of a childhood friend who was a student at Ole Miss when he passed."He just didn't wake up. It was something crazy. I had friends that were with him that night, saw him go to bed, but he just didn't wake up. I played baseball with him since I was eight. I knew him that long."
With a heavy heart in ways, and with home tugging at him, Renfro approached Randy Edsall before the final game of the regular season against Rutgers and told the Terps' headman of his plans to move closer to home.
"I told him what I was thinking," Renfro said, "and he has been real supportive and backed my decision all the way. So that made it a lot better."
On the field, while Renfro will start his 38th straight game as a Terrapin this week and now two bowls as well, it's been a bit of a rollercoaster ride at times for Renfro, who has battled consistency and hangtime issues over the years. There was no better time when, as a freshman, he debuted with a 60-yard boomer against William & Mary, was ranked among national punters for the first few weeks of the season, but settled in with a 39.7 yard season average after starting all 12 games. As a sophomore he would raise that a few ticks to 40.8 yards, and finally this season to a 41.0 yard average. He had some headliner games no doubt, with a career long 64-yarder and a 47.0 average at USF this season, while he had seven punts for a 47.9 yard average, and also including a 64-yarder, against West Virginia this year. But he never seemed to get in a consistent flow where he built game-to-game -- and in ways his career as well -- with some low points and punts mixed in.
Still, there are few more pleasant and popular Terps among their teammates. Renfro is a part of Maryland's truly special special teams unit this season led by Lou Groza Award winner Brad Craddock, the Terps junior placekicker who was also named first team All-American this month. Craddock is his roommate this week in San Francisco.
Renfro is soaking up all the final memories as he shares time with some of his closest friends in the Terrapin family.
"There's Brad, one of my closest friends on the team, and then some of the guys that I came in with like [Ty] Cierski, [Cole] Farrand, [Evan] Mulrooney, [Ryan] Doyle, [Andrew] Zeller, [Stephen] Grommer....I mean, I lived with a lof of those guys, so it's going to be really rough not seeing them day in and day out now," Renfro said.
Renfro also looks back on some fond field memories, ups and downs regardless.
"Obviously, that first game was probably the best of my career," Renfro said in looking back. "I just started off with such a bang, but then kinda had the ups and downs throughout the years. But overall, I am proud of what I accomplished. Not many people can say they started two bowls games, played in two leagues, every place in the ACC and now some really cool places here in the Big Ten now. So not too many people can say that. There were some ups and downs, but also a lot of things I will cherish."
And Renfro and the Terps specialists all got a little extra inspiration at the first day of camp at Laney this week, with a visit from former Terp and current Oakland Raiders long snapper Jon Condo, a true Terrapin success story still going strong after all these years.
"I had never met him before, but I had heard stories about him," Renfro said of Condo. "And he just told us to just cherish the moment, that we have got a great opportunity out here, and this is the last time this team will suit up together. So make sure you give your all for the man next to you."
Renfro Enters Final Game With Heavy Heart
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