Renfree has surgery on injured arm
An emotionally painful loss will leave one of the best players in Duke’s football history with a major physical wound to heal, as well.
Duke quarterback Sean Renfree had surgery Friday morning to repair a torn right pectoralis major muscle, the school announced.
Renfree suffered the injury on his final pass attempt in Duke’s 48-34 loss to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium on Thursday night. Hit as he threw, Renfree’s pass was intercepted and returned for the final touchdown of the game with 14 seconds to play.
The right pectoralis major muscle is best known as the muscle that is strengthened through bench pressing. It allows the shoulder to move forward.
Dr. Claude T. Moorman III, head of Duke’s Sports Medicine Center, performed the operation on Renfree, who is expected to make a full recovery.
In the Belk Bowl, his final game for Duke, Renfree threw for 358 yards. During his senior season, while leading the Blue Devils to a bowl game for the first time in 18 years, he completed 297 of 441 passes (.673) for 3,113 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Renfree had been invited to participate with other top seniors in the East-West Shrine All-Star game on Jan. 19 in St. Petersburg, Fla. The injury will keep him out of that game and preclude him from participating in February’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
“As always, Sean is in great spirits,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Friday. “While this is an unfortunate setback, those who know Sean have no doubt that he will turn this misfortune into something positive. He is a very special young man; one who has done so much for our football program here at Duke.
“I just can’t say enough about his character, leadership and selflessness, and those attributes don’t begin to describe Sean’s ability to play the game of football. He is one of the best to play not only at Duke, but in the Atlantic Coast Conference.”
Renfree, who is from Scottsdale, Ariz., set Duke’s single-season (.673 in 2012) and career (.647) records for passing accuracy. His 9,465 career passing yards rank No. 3 in Duke history, behind Thaddeus Lewis (10,065) and Ben Bennett (9,614).
In Thursday night’s bowl, Duke’s first postseason game in 18 years, Renfree led two second-half touchdown drives to put the Blue Devils in front after Cincinnati had built a 27-16 lead.
With the game tied at 34 in the fourth quarter, Duke drove to the Cincinnati 5 with less than two minutes to play. Attempting to burn clock, Renfree handed off to Josh Snead, who fumbled to ball to the Bearcats with 1:20 to play.
After the Bearcats scored on an 83-yard pass play with 44 seconds left, Renfree moved Duke into Cincinnati territory one final time. But the interception return on a touchdown on the play on which Renfree was injured sealed the win for Cincinnati.
“Sean Renfree was great tonight,” Cutcliffe said after the game. “He’s turned into a great football player. He has great accuracy; he uses the field well. He manages our offense.”
Duke led 16-0 over Cincinnati before the Bearcats took a 17-16 halftime lead and extended it to 27-16 in the third quarter.
Fellow senior Walt Canty, a starting safety for Duke, said rallying in the second half showed how far the program has come.
“That just shows the type of guys we have on our team, the type of guys Coach Cut and his staff have recruited,” Canty said. “That’s what we expect as seniors leaving the program — we expect those guys to pick it up, to continue to lead, continue to grow as players and men.”
Renfree’s injury is one final blow to a team that overcame a host of challenges to win more games than any Duke team since 1994. The Blue Devils (6-7) saw potential starters Kelby Brown (linebacker), Blair Holliday (wide receiver), Braxton Deaver (tight end) and Jamal Bruce (defensive line) injured before practice even began in August.
Safety Brandon Braxton missed the final four games of the regular season and fellow safety Jordon Byas missed games with injury in September. Byas also was injured in the first quarter of the Belk Bowl on two crushing hits and didn’t return to the game.
Senior cornerback/safety Lee Butler suffered a knee injury in November that kept him out of the Belk Bowl.
Renfree missed the Oct. 6 home game with Virginia with a shoulder strain only to see backup Anthony Boone lead a 41-14 win.
“We’ve had adversity since spring practice,” Cutcliffe said. “The strength of the program is the people — not just the players, but our staff and our support staff. It’s the best collection of people that I’ve been around during my time in sports, which is a long time.
“This group of seniors is pretty special. We’ll grow from this and maybe, just maybe, our luck will change. We’re hoping so.”