Justin Rentfro was eager to get his brand on his left arm two years ago. It’s the same brand, a backward rocking ‘R”, his older brother, Cody, and father, George have on their arms.
Rentfro received his brand the summer after his sophomore year. He wanted it done in time so it could heal before the start of football season.
“It’s kind of a family tradition,” Rentfro said. “I think it represents our family, our toughness. We’re hard-working people, whether it’s tending to cattle or coming together to get work done around the house.”
Tough definitely describes the football playing style of this third-year, 6-foot-1, 210-pound Hilmar senior.
Rentfro was hunting bears with his dad at the age of 10.
When he’s not in the weight room, he spends his spare time working on his ‘85 Chevy or doing whatever needs to be done around the family ranch.
He has taken that same gritty approach he learned growing up in the Rentfro family when taking the field for Hilmar (11-2).
“I try to,” he said. “When we do things, we don’t do them half-ass. It’s always 100 percent because if you’re not, why are you doing it?”
Rentfro and his Yellowjackets teammates will host undefeated East Nicolaus (13-0) in the CIF Northern California 6AA championship at Atwater High’s Dave Honey Stadium on Friday night,
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Rentfro is one of three third-year varsity players for Hilmar, along with teammates Jared Collier and Nick Aguilera. The trio have enjoyed a lot of success with back-to-back Sac-Joaquin Section championship teams and a three-year record of 28-10.
“We were just talking about it the other day, how many battles they’ve been through,” said Hilmar coach Frank Marques. “They were part of the league championship team two years ago when we lost our quarterback (Chase Kindberg) to an injury on the last game of the regular season. Last year they were part of the 5-5 team that went on the run in the playoffs and now this year. They’re battle-tested.”
Like last year, Rentfro is playing his best late in the season.
After averaging just 6.7 carries and 54 yards per game during the regular season, Rentfro has rushed for 282 yards and five touchdowns in the Yellowjackets’ last two playoff wins over Escalon and Ripon Christian.
During Hilmar’s four-game playoff run last year, Rentfro rushed for 364 yards and three touchdowns.
“It’s kind of just the way the season unfolded,” Marques said. “He’s earned the extra carries. He’s kind of sneaky fast for a big guy. He’s smash you, but he’ll also find a hole when he needs to.”
Rentfro has rushed for 857 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. He also plays full time at middle linebacker and leads the Yellowjackets with 112 tackles.
Offensively, he gives the Yellowjackets a power option to complement the speed threat of Isaac Sharp, who has rushed for 1,446 yards and 19 touchdowns.
“People can’t focus on Isaac anymore,” Marques said. “They’re a great one-two punch.”
Rentfro’s success is a product of hours spent in the weight room during the offseason. It started his sophomore season, playing up on varsity with his older brother.
“My brother’s class had some big dudes,” Justin said. “That’s what started it for me. My junior year, I just continued with what I had built on. I fell in love with working out. Honestly, I was in the weight room every day during the offseason. Nobody likes the pain and suffering, but once you see the results, it pushes you to keep working.”
Rentfro has seen his bench press numbers increase to 300 pounds and his dead lift has improved to 535 pounds.
Marques can’t remember another player more chiseled than Rentfro.
“You don’t get guys like him very often, especially with his size,” Marques said. “He’s one of a kind.”