Hunter Renfrow learns from Antonio Brown, is ready to help Raiders win

Hunter Renfrow learns from Antonio Brown, is ready to help Raiders win

ALAMEDA -- Hunter Renfrow was a preferred walk-on at Clemson. He played in three straight College Football Playoffs, won two national championships and caught the game-winning touchdown to beat Alabama in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game. He's no stranger to pressure. 

Now, after being drafted by the Raiders in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Renfrow is preparing to make his NFL debut as the Silver and Black's starting slot receiver when the Raiders face the Denver Broncos on Monday night. 

You'd expect the rookie to have some butterflies or anxiety about stepping onto the field for his first NFL game -- it's only natural as you prepare to achieve a lifelong goal -- but Renfrow knows he belongs. 

"I was a lot more nervous (before my first game) at Clemson," Renfrow told NBC Sports California on Wednesday. "I didn't know if I was good enough. Here we've had a good month-and-a-half of practice. Like I was saying, to go against Lamarcus Joyner and he's one of the NFL's best. Just challenging myself to beat him in practice, and if I do that, hopefully, I won't be overwhelmed come Monday night." 

Renfrow entered training camp in an apparent position battle to be the starting slot receiver, but he quickly won that with his uncanny knack for getting open and steady hands. He also has a number of veterans to lean on for advice, including one of the game's best -- Antonio Brown.

While Brown wasn't around the team all the time during camp, Renfrow already has learned a lot from the four-time All-Pro. 

"Just being around him, he's so fun," Renfrow said. "He brings out the best in everybody. Just the way he practices and the way he runs his routes. He sells everything vertical. As a receiver, if you can get the DB to think you're running vertical, it opens up everything and so it's fun to watch him and he's a special player, and I'm excited to watch him Monday night as well." 

The Raiders were a disappointing 4-12 last season, a teardown project that equated to a Year 0 under coach Jon Gruden. 

Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock injected youth and talent into the roster, with Renfrow and two of his Clemson teammates -- edge rusher Clelin Ferrell and cornerback Trayvon Mullen -- serving as what the Raiders hope will be the foundation for a culture shift

[RELATED: AB's insane catch reminder why Raiders put up with drama]

Despite being a fifth-round draft pick, Renfrow's stock is high and he is expected to be a key cog in an offense with all the tools to be one of the NFL's best. 

Renfrow, however, channeled his inner Al Davis when asked what his expectations were for himself in his first real NFL action. 

"Whatever it takes to win," Renfrow said. "Really. I mean, it's a one-game season. It doesn't matter to me if I catch 30 balls or three fumbles. That's what's important to me and I'm excited to be able to celebrate on Monday night." 

Tahir Whitehead named Raiders as Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee


Tahir Whitehead named Raiders as Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee

Linebacker and team co-captain Tahir Whitehead was named the team’s nominee for the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award, the league announced Thursday.

The award honors those active in charitable efforts in the community and excellence on the field. Whitehead has been a community leader throughout his professional career, including his two seasons with the Raiders.

Whitehead was active in several different Bay Area initiatives this season, including the team’s Crucial Catch campaign. He also led a group of players to visit UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital and hosted a 5k to support homeless veterans last month. There’s also a holiday shopping spree coming up for deserving kids in the Oakland area.

He also participated in community events in London last offseason while promoting the team’s Week 5 contest against the Chicago Bears at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Whitehead has been a defensive fixture, one of the stable components on a unit beset by injuries and setbacks.

[RELATED: Carr shares special bond with Coliseum, where QB came of age]

The NFL announced all 32 Walter Payton Man of the Year award nominees on Thursday.

The winner will be announced at the NFL Honors show the night before the Super Bowl.

Derek Carr shares special bond with Oakland, where he came of age in NFL

Derek Carr shares special bond with Oakland, where he came of age in NFL

ALAMEDA -- On Christmas Eve last year, Derek Carr took what he thought might be his final lap around the Coliseum after the Raiders' 27-14 win over the Broncos.

He soaked it all in, not knowing if that would be his goodbye to the hallowed grounds that housed the Raiders' glory days and the start to his career in silver and black.

It wasn't.

The Raiders returned to Oakland for one more season, hoping to give those who live, eat and breathe silver and black a final year to remember.

It got off to an optimistic start, with the Raiders sitting a 6-4 with a 4-1 record in the Coliseum through 10 games. But the wheels came off the playoff bus, and now Carr and the Raiders have must focus on ending a three-game winning streak and making the Coliseum finale a fitting one for Raider Nation.

"Yeah, I think we talked about it last year, right?" Carr said on the emotions of the Coliseum finale. "We played Denver, it was like maybe, so try and soak it in and all those kinds of things. So, I guess you erase those memories and take on these ones I guess because of all of the players that have played here, this organization’s history, all of those things. I was here for [Charles Woodson] last game. There was some pretty cool memories that I have just of my own being on the team, but I think this one will rank right up there. I expect it to be crazy and loud and all those kinds of things, so we’re going to go out there and give our best effort. I promise you that.”

Most people come of age in college. But for NFL quarterbacks, it happens in a different in a cauldron. One that mixes intense pressure with expectations and little room for error. One that is ferocious and can chew people up and spit them out without warning.

The Coliseum has been Carr's arena. It has been the theater of some of his finest moments, memories he'll remember forever. It also lifted him after he broke his ankle at the end of the 2016 season, a moment that showed him all the blood, sweat and tears he has given to get the Raiders where they need to be, has not gone unnoticed.

"I broke my ankle and you could just feel the air go out of the stadium," Carr said of the injury that ended his 2016 season. "I remember sitting there and as I was driving away just the applause and the cheers -- it was like, for whatever reason, in that moment I felt the love back. That's something I'll always remember because I give everything I have for our team, and you give so much it's always nice to hear it back."

A number of Raider greats have called the Coliseum home. From Ken Stabler to Jim Plunkett to Daryle Lamonica to Rich Gannon, Carr will be the final quarterback to don the silver and black in the famed arena. His place in Raiders history is not lost on him and No. 4 is still amazed at where he finds himself,

"Just to put in perspective, like a little kid from Fresno, California is playing somewhere where his dad’s favorite football team did, Carr said. "Like let’s be real about it, it’s pretty awesome. That was a dream come true. Every kid that I’ve ever talked to that’s on a football team, ‘Who wants to be in the NFL?’ Everyone raises their hand. How many of those kids actually get to do it, right? There is very few. It’s hard. It’s a hard business to do and do for a long time, and so to be able to be here and play on the same field as all of those legends played on and to actually know some of those guys, talk to those guys, call those guys friends, like that’s kind of weird, but it is a really cool thing.”

When he takes the field Sunday when the Raiders face the 4-9 Jaguars to close out the Coliseum's run, Carr will have one final chance to deliver for those who have adored him ever since the Raiders drafted him in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Carr loves the fans, both those that will come with the team to Las Vegas and those who feel jilted and have since turned their backs. If you ask him, only one fanbase has the word "Nation" after the team name. It's Raider Nation.

Likewise, they've loved him back. They've fiercely defended him against critics. Enjoyed triumphs and mourned defeats together. He's their quarterback. He bleeds silver and black just as they do.

[RELATED: Why Coliseum was 'legendary' place even for new Raiders]

Sunday, No. 4 and those in attendance at the Coliseum will have 60 more minutes to share together. Then. the Coliseum will join its lot partner -- Oracle Arena -- as a mausoleum for Oakland's glory days. Something for Raider fans to drive by on I-880 and tell their kids historic tales of the team that left one too many times.

The kid from Fresno is the one charged with turning out the lights at the Coliseum.

Derek Carr, the last in a historic lineage of quarterbacks to call the Coliseum home.