The Allstate Sugar Bowl Believes in Champions – Dusty Renfro
Champions have long defined the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The list of Hall of Fame athletes who have competed in the annual contest is staggering. Heisman Trophy winners, future NFL Super Bowl champions and national championship coaches have made their mark in the annual game that brings in thousands of fans and millions of television viewers to New Orleans. But the list of Sugar Bowl champions extends well past the gridiron. There is a long list of distinguished individuals who have proven themselves to be champions in life as well – the Sugar Bowl’s current series highlights these lesser known success stories.
The Allstate Sugar Bowl Believes in Champions
Terry and Mary Renfro emphasized, above all else, devotion to family, faith and hard work raising sons Dusty and Chad. They modeled that in many aspects of their lives, certainly as both played football growing up.
Terry coached and helped out as much as possible and Mary was the team mom, cooking for the team before games and making sure the players had everything they needed.
The payoff? Well, as most parents who have raised kids know, it’s seeing them be successful and happy in life. Grandkids are also a big-time bonus.
“We had a blast (raising them) and now we get to watch our grandchildren,’’ Terry said.
But there is even more for Terry. Dusty saved Terry’s life four years ago through a sacrificial act. He not only donated one of his kidneys to his father but he also helped prepared him to fight a difficult battle in getting ready for the transplant.
“It was the gift of life,” Terry said. “Now I feel 20 years younger, I have my strength back, we’re having family functions, and I can enjoy them. He saved me.’’
The combination of selfless devotion and hard work comes as no surprise to those who know Dusty best.
Old-fashioned values have been the key to his life. With a focus on hard work, one of the hardest-working linebackers in Texas Longhorn history has achieved success on the football field, in business and in the community. That passion for hard work came from another old-fashioned value – family.
During his four-year career at Texas, Renfro was a Big 12 Champion, twice an Academic All-American and an All-Big 12 selection. After a short pro career, he quickly found success in business, using his work ethic to make a name for himself in commercial real estate and the oil industry.
However, in 2016, he faced his biggest challenge – health issues threatened his father Terry’s life. He needed a kidney transplant to survive, however, he was denied access to a transplant list due to his weight problems – a transplant simply wouldn’t work for someone carrying one hundred-plus extra pounds.
The younger Renfro jumped into action.
“I was driving back from West Texas with [close friend and business partner] Matt Trissel when I got that phone call,” Dusty remembered. “It was a very emotional call. (His father) told me he was in renal failure; he was going on dialysis and he would need a kidney transplant. My immediate response was, ‘We’re going to get you in shape and I’m going to give you a kidney.’ That was the first thing that popped into my head – it was a natural solution.”
Renfro packed up his parents in Granbury, Texas, and moved them onto a houseboat a few slips down from his own boat on Lake Travis so he could fully focus on his father’s health and weight.
“I didn’t even know if I was a match at that time,” he said. “They wouldn’t even test me until he got the weight off.”
The only doctors who would consider Terry for a transplant were the staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in Temple, Texas. And even they wouldn’t commit to anything due to the weight issue.
Terry and Dusty Renfro (Longhorn Network)
“They do psychological evaluations, a full day of interviews,” Renfro remembered. “They want to make sure you’re donating for the right reasons. I told them, ‘Look, I’m a match and I’m giving my dad this kidney. If you guys don’t do it, we’re going to find a way to do it anyway. We’ll fly to Kidney Island and have them do it. So you may as well approve it.’”
Renfro’s creative argument aside, it was the tremendous effort between the father and son to shed nearly 120 pounds that led to them sharing a hospital room on Dec. 6, 2016.
The transplant was immediately successful, at least for Terry. He had gone from less than 10 percent kidney function to having a fully healthy kidney. Dusty, meanwhile, had gone from 100-percent kidney capacity to 50-percent. Not to mention the physical impact of deeply invasive surgery.
“I had a lot of surgeries in the past but it’s a different deal when they’re cutting through your stomach muscles,” Dusty said. “That surgeon was elbow deep for four or five hours.
“Your intestines don’t like to be touched,” he added with a laugh.
“It wasn’t easy to accept it [his kidney],” Terry said. “My wife and I said absolutely not, he’s perfectly healthy. I turned him down flat. He got upset with me. He said, ‘If I needed a kidney, would you give me one?’ I said absolutely. And he told me to stop fighting him on this.
“The first thing I said when I woke up was, ‘How’s my son?’
Dusty and Bundy Renfro (4-6 Services)
While Dusty slowly recovered, he estimates it was about six months before he was truly back to full health, Terry was feeling great.
“It was like I’d gained 20 years, I felt fantastic.”
The decision to give his father something as precious as a kidney wasn’t hard for Renfro. His love for his parents transcended any apprehension he might have about donating the organ. His parents taught him many things, including to give of yourself and to always give your best.
“My dad and mom always told me, ‘All we expect is for you to do your best, give 110% in everything you do. And you will never disappoint anybody.’ That’s what I did, on the field, in the weight room, in the classroom, no matter where I was. I was always going to give my very best effort.”
His effort allowed him to quickly climb the depth chart during his true freshman season in 1995. By the end of the year, he was a critical part of the Longhorn linebacking corps. Texas registered 10 wins in Renfro’s first season and earned a trip to the Sugar Bowl against an up-and-coming Virginia Tech team.
“I didn’t know much about Virginia Tech going into that game,” Renfro said. “They came out and they were big and strong and they were a tough team. The running backs were big and powerful, probably the biggest running backs we had faced that year. And [Jim] Druckenmiller the QB was like tackling an oak tree. We sure knew who they were after that game.”
The Longhorns jumped out to a 10-0 second-quarter edge, but then the Hokies erupted. Flanker Bryan Still scored on a 60-yard punt return to get things started; he would add a 54-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter as Virginia Tech rolled to a 28-10 victory.
Even with the loss, “It was probably the most fun we had at a bowl,” Renfro said. “The atmosphere, New Orleans. Everything leading up to New Year’s Eve. I was a true freshman, just a kid. It was a cool experience to see the festivities on my first trip to New Orleans.”
And the Renfro extended family were all in attendance. His parents drove down along with the parents of his then-girlfriend, now wife, Bundy Robbins, and a caravan of friends.
“When they made the Sugar Bowl, we loaded up the Suburban and drove on down,” Terry said. “We had family, friends, his old coaches, it was a great time. We tried all the local food, we explored the antique shops, we rode the paddlewheel boat; we did it all. I love history so it was great to see so much there.
Dusty Renfro (Courtesy Texas Athletics)
“We really had a great time until we went up to the Dome and Druckenmiller started killing us,” he laughed. “But even then, we enjoyed the back and forth between the Virginia Tech fans and ours. It was a lot of good fun.”
Renfro’s sophomore season brought his top career highlight as Texas made the inaugural Big 12 Championship game that year. The underdog Longhorns upended No. 3 Nebraska 34-24 as Renfro dominated the game with 20 tackles. The win foiled the Cornhuskers’ hopes for a third-straight national championship.
At the end of his four-year Longhorn career, Renfro ranked fifth all-time with 370 career tackles. He was a two-year team captain. And he earned his degree in marketing.
“Dusty was the ultimate leader and the perfect middle linebacker,” said Mack Brown, his coach at Texas for his senior year. “As a captain for us, he was physical, smart and had great instincts. He also was one of our hardest workers. I was so proud when he chose to honor the great Tommy Nobis by wearing the number 60 in the Cotton Bowl, but it made sense because of who Dusty is and how he played. Dusty is a great Longhorn and it was an honor to coach him during his senior season.”
Nobis was the 1965 Maxwell Award (nation’s outstanding player) and Outland Trophy winner (nation’s top interior lineman). His jersey number 60 was worn at times after his career as a tribute to the Longhorn Legend. The standout linebacker and offensive lineman and member of the 1963 National Championship team officially had his number 60 retired at Texas in 2008.
After a few years of professional football, Renfro quickly established himself as a successful hard-working businessman in the real estate and oil industries.
“It always goes back to that team atmosphere and that team player mentality,” Renfro said about being successful in the business world. “I’m not necessarily doing it for myself. In football, I always played for the guy beside me. Now in business, I work hard for my family and my business partners. It’s a mindset; if you’re doing it for someone else, you’re going to try harder.”
He and Trissel formed Four Six Services, an oil field service company specializing in pressure control, torque and test, iron recertification and flowback, in 2013. Last year, the duo formed Four Six Capital, a commercial real estate construction and development company. Trissel was a Longhorn himself – the fullback who blocked for Cedric Benson in the four years after Renfro’s Texas tenure. And Trissel wore number 46, the same as Renfro. Hence, “Four Six” in the company names. According to the Four Six Capital website, the company name is not just a number, the Four Six logo stands for teamwork, toughness, reliability, integrity, hard work, pride, and commitment.
“Matt and I met on his recruiting trip,” Renfro remembered. “I was a senior in college and he was a senior in high school, but we had a lot in common – both from small country towns, both loved the outdoors, and we loved to hunt. We became instant friends even though we never got to play together.
“We went into the business about eight years ago and the oil field has been a roller coaster for us. Our saving grace has been all the lessons that Coach [Mack] Brown taught us at the University of Texas. He ran the team like a CEO runs a business. All of those leadership lessons we learned have been very valuable running companies.”
In addition to his successes in the business world, Renfro has made a mission of teaching football to under privileged kids around the world. Working with friends and his church, Renfro established an annual youth football clinic (Camp Gridiron) in Portugal in 2008. They’ve also conducted clinics in Brazil and have aims on continued expansion.
“Football teaches a lot of life lessons and it has become a platform for my faith,” he said. “My faith has always played a big part in my football career and my business career. It’s a driving force for helping other people and doing it for your teammates. It has become a platform for our mission trips in Portugal.”
Renfro is also transferring the lessons learned from life and football to his own sons. Knox (16) and Nash (15) are sports standouts themselves – Knox is a golfer and Nash has focused on baseball. Both have their eyes set on becoming Longhorns like their dad.
Even with all of his achievements and his continued success, it will be tough to top saving his own father’s life.
The Allstate Sugar Bowl has established itself as one of the premier college football bowl games, having hosted 28 national champions, 96 Hall of Fame players, 50 Hall of Fame coaches and 18 Heisman Trophy winners in its 86-year history. The 87th Allstate Sugar Bowl Football Classic, which will double as a College Football Playoff Semifinal, is scheduled to be played on January 1, 2021. In addition to football, the Sugar Bowl Committee annually invests over $1.6 million into the community through the hosting and sponsorship of sporting events, awards and clinics. Through these efforts, the organization supports and honors over 100,000 student-athletes each year, while injecting over $2.7 billion into the local economy in the last decade.