If Tyler Renew hasn’t called you back yet, don’t take it personally. Seriously. For one, he’s got a playoff game to get ready for. For another, he’s probably still catching up on the boatload of messages from this past weekend.
“It was extremely overwhelming,” said The Citadel’s junior running back, laughing quietly. “Just people that I probably hadn’t talked to in two or three years, and people that I talk to every day, all congratulating me.
“And just talking to those people again — it was nice to kind of catch up with everybody. And also to realize, (as) my grandma always used to tell me, ‘There are always eyes on you, whether you think there are or not.’ It makes you realize that there really are a lot of people watching. So it was definitely a humbling experience.”
Humbling? Humbling is when the guy who used to sell peanuts in the stands at Williams-Brice Stadium — true story, more on that in a bit — turns up with a scrappy FCS underdog and runs all over the home team’s backside. Renew, a 217-pounder hails from Columbia, S.C., but never got a serious sniff from the hometown Gamecocks.
“I received some letters, but they never actually asked me to walk on or gave me scholarship money or anything like that,” he said.
On Saturday, Renew racked up 174 rushing yards, including a 56-yard scamper that gave the visitors the lead for good, in The Citadel’s 23-22 victory at South Carolina.
“I would never have imagined it,” said Renew, whose Bulldogs carried the momentum into an FCS playoff berth — their first in 23 years — and a visit to Coastal Carolina on Saturday (see FCS bracket below). “That’s just a testament to the coaches believing in me and a testament to the offensive line. I get the credit for the yards, but the other guys should get just as much credit for what they did.”
It takes a village to rock the SEC: Renew’s 174 rushing yards were the most by an opposing player at Williams-Brice Stadium since Darren McFadden rumbled for 219 in 2006 — and higher than five different teams’ totals on the ground this season against the Gamecocks.
“It was definitely an overwhelming experience,” Renew said. “I enjoyed it with my family and my friends from high school and everybody that attended the game. It was definitely an awesome experience to spend with them and definitely something I’ll never forget.”
So the trick now is turning the page — and quickly — toward the Bulldogs’ first postseason berth in more than a generation. And it’s a beast of a draw: The Citadel hosted Coastal just last August in its season opener, only to be handed a 31-16 defeat. The Bulldogs rank second in the FCS in rushing yards per game (344.3); The Chanticleers (9-2) have allowed 168.4 rushing yards to foes and only 15 scores on the ground. In one corner, the irresistible force. In the other, the immovable object.
“It’s definitely good to have a game like Saturday’s against an SEC team, because South Carolina is a great team, so it’s definitely a confidence-boost in that respect,” said Renew, who piled up 142 rushing yards and a 30-yard score against Coastal last August. “(A playoff berth) is something that we haven’t had in many, many years, so we’re focused, fully focused on Coastal Carolina this weekend and excited about the opportunity that we have on Saturday.
“That was our first game with this new coaching staff, and so from that (standpoint), as a team, we’re very different … I feel like we’ve made a lot of strides, in terms of physicality and how we play as a team.”
Renew has made more than a few strides, too, upping his per-carry average by more than a yard (4.5 in ’14 to 5.6 this fall) and cutting his fumbles from eight (five lost) last fall to two with one giveaway this season.
“When it happened, you started to think about it too much, and the more you’d think about it, the more it happened,” he explained. “Really, it was just more a mental thing. So having (a new) year to reset and just go back to fundamentals, it’s helped a lot.”
And the dude has never minded a heavy load, as the vendors around Williams-Brice can attest. For three falls as a high-schooler, the Columbia native had a weekend job helping to sell peanuts during South Carolina home games. On a typical Saturday, rain or shine, Renew held the bags while a buddy would do the tossing and the cash exchanges.
“It was a fun experience, being able to watch the game and make money at the same time,” Renew recalled. “Yeah, the (bags) got heavy at times. Walking up all those aisles, your legs got pretty tired at some point.”
They got tired after Saturday’s mileage, too. And exhaustion never felt so stinking sweet.