When first asked if Saturday holds any special meaning for Justin Renfrow, the soon-to-be 24-year-old said yes, citing his birthday and Miami’s senior day.
But when asked again, this time the question specific to the Hurricanes’ opponent, Renfrow added another reason for motivation.
“In terms of being able to play,” Renfrow said Tuesday, “it definitely will be a little personal because I’m going against a lot of people who told me I couldn’t play and I wasn’t good enough to have a good year. So I’m definitely going to play with a little bit of that in the back of my head.”
Renfrow is Miami’s 6-foot-6, 320-pound starting defensive tackle. As of last season, he was Virginia’s reserve defensive tackle.
Both sides of his college career will collide at noon, Saturday, in Sun Life Stadium.
After redshirting in 2009, Renfrow, a former three-star recruit out of Philadelphia, played three seasons at UVa, appearing in all of 22 games, collecting 18 tackles and earning just one letter.
Renfrow participated in Virginia’s spring practice, ending April second on the depth chart behind Brent Urban.
He said the lack of playing time grew on him.
“Obviously, it was definitely frustrating,” Renfrow said. “But my mom and my dad and my girlfriend were always there telling me to keep working hard and God will work everything out.”
Renfrow graduated from Virginia in the summer with a degree in sociology, leaving him the option to immediately play for another FBS team or return and play his senior season for the Cavaliers.
He chose to depart — and landed at an ACC Coastal Division rival.
“It was a personal decision,” UVa head coach Mike London said Monday. “Both sides decided to go separate ways. As I said, he graduated here and made an opportunity that when you graduate that you can transfer anywhere.
“His option, or his choice, was Miami, and that's where he is. I wish him well.”
Renfrow said, during the separation, communication from London lacked.
“I actually didn’t get a proper exit interview that all other players get,” Renfrow said. “He actually never even spoke with me. He only spoke with my parents. He never had the sit-down exit meeting with me after I requested it.
“So I can’t speak on that.”
Instead, he’s allowed his game to talk.
After barely seeing the field with the Wahoos, Renfrow’s been a regular for the Hurricanes.
He’s started Miami’s last five games. His season totals of 29 tackles, two pass break-ups and a forced fumble trump his career totals in Charlottesville.
“I wouldn’t call it playing with a chip on your shoulder,” Renfrow said. “I was just finally getting a chance to play for coaches who had confidence in me and had coaches giving me confidence.
“I think when you can go out there and know your coach has your back and your coach is going to do everything possible to help you, I think it’s really easy to play.”
Renfrow said that positive reinforcement wasn’t always around him at UVa.
“There were different people [who said I couldn’t play],” Renfrow said. “I’m not really going to go into that, heavy. Those people who said it know they said it.”
As Saturday approaches, Renfrow wants to make clear he has no personal vendetta against the Virginia players.
“I still talk to some of the guys there,” Renfrow said. “Like I said before, I have nothing against any of the players. A lot of them I have good relationships with. A lot of the players have told me ‘Congratulations’ and they’re proud of me.
“They’re happy to see I finally got my chance and I’m getting what I deserve.”
Both UVa linebacker Daquan Romero and defensive tackle David Dean echoed their good standing with Renfrow this week.
“When ‘Frow was here,” Romero said, “me and ‘Frow was cool.”
Added Dean: “We were definitely good friends when he was here.”
Renfrow said Miami was always his No. 1 transfer option because he shared a relationship with Hurricane head coach Al Golden and defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio going back to when the duo was on staff at Temple.
“Out of high school, I wanted to commit to play for Coach Golden and Coach D and the staff at Temple,” Renfrow said, “but being from Philly, I didn’t want to stay home and also I really don’t want to go to Temple.”
Coming full-circle, he’s now at Miami (7-3, 3-3 ACC). Saturday, he plays Virginia (2-8, 0-6).
“It’s been circled on the calendar for the fact that it’s senior day, it’s my birthday,” Renfrow said. “Not really because it was Virginia. It’s another game in our quest to go to a bowl and our quest to try to win the Coastal.
“Here, our big motto is always ‘Team First’ and ‘Doing Your Job.’ I’m not focusing on trying to beat Virginia, I’m trying to focus in on winning another game, so we can go to a good bowl.”