The Scarlet Knights have added more length, speed and depth to its defensive secondary in Patrice Rene — a six-two-and-a-half, 200-pound graduate transfer from UNC. A four-star recruit coming out of Episcocpal high (Alexandria, Va.) in 2016, Rene has longstanding ties to Rutgers linebackers coach Bob Fraser, who helped forge a reunion of sorts.
Rene was committed to Rutgers and ex-head coach Kyle Flood in 2015 before decommitting when Flood was fired. He had originally picked Rutgers over Ohio State, Wisconsin, Cal, Oklahoma, Penn State, Nebraska, Tennessee, Virginia Tech and other Power Five schools, becoming the nineteenth member, and third defensive back, to join Rutgers’ 2016 class.
Now, things have come full circle as he returns to Piscataway. Rene entered the transfer portal this week — after five years in Chapel Hill where he graduated and has had some success (103 tackles, 12 pass breakups, two INTs, a forced fumble and recovery for his career) — and Rutgers swooped in and secured his pledge.
“I entered the portal because I was trying to find a place I can call my new home and make an impact right away,” Rene told NJ Advance Media on Wednesday night. “This is my last year, last season, so I definitely wanted to go somewhere there was a need for a corner. A place that needed someone to step in and make an impact right away. And a place I know I can develop my skills and prepare for the draft.”
Rutgers won out largely due to its preexisting ties with the Ontario native, who migrated to the U.S. to compete against the best football players in the world.
“After talking to a lot of schools, a lot of coaches, I felt like my relationship with Rutgers was strongest,” Rene said. “It’s kind of a funny story. Coming out of high school, I was originally committed to them. And now having the opportunity to finish my career there, I feel like It was destined to be. It was already written in history.
“I’ve known Coach Fraser since the eighth grade. And Coach Schiano, he’s a guy respected and well-known throughout the football world, so I feel like Rutgers is a great fit for me.”
In fact, Rene has always felt that way, and wouldn’t have left if not for the turmoil surrounding Rutgers and Flood.
“Rutgers was my first love,” said Rene. “That’s where I really wanted to go coming out of high school. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out like that with the staff being let go.”
But there are more than enough reasons to return.
“At the end of the day, my grandma lives there, around the New York area, and I have family members there,” he said. “So, I will kind of have that familiarity, making it easier for my parents being from Canada to come down for some home games.”
Rene has remained tethered to Rutgers for two other reasons, as well. He calls them his “young guys.”
“Rutgers has always been in the back of my mind. I’ve always kept up with them,” he said. “I have some of my young guys that come from my hometown, my city, from Gridiron Academy — Rene Konga and Wesley Bailey. They go to Rutgers and I’ve always kept up with them over the years, making sure they were straight.”
Now Rene can end his college career on his own terms while being developed by a staff that he is confidence can boost his NFL Draft grade.
“It’s more so just trying to create opportunities for myself,” he said. “I did my time at Carolina. I played there for five years. It was a great time, a great opportunity. But, at the same time, it’s beneficial for me to find a new home. I spoke with people in my corner and we felt like it would be in my best interest to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19.”
Rene spent five years in Chapel Hill and leaves with a strong undergraduate degree. The Tar Heels supported Rene, and played a role in helping him move on, despite grieving his loss.
“The coaches at UNC supported us all the way,” he said. “They tried to help me out through the whole process.”
And there are plenty areas where he can help Rutgers, including in the locker room.
“I’ve played a lot of ball and I bring a lot of leadership to the table,” he said. “I can come in and kind of set the tone in the locker room. After playing a lot of football and being around the game so long, I’m an experienced veteran. I can help the young guys. Help motivate them, influence them and show them the path because I’ve been there.
“I hope to go in there and be that kind of figure that they can look up to, rely on and lean on.”
Rene can also really run for a big DB.
“I can roll out the bed and run a 4.5 (second 40-yard dash), but I’m trying to get it down into 4.4 range,” he said.
How do Greg Schiano and Robb Smith plan to incorporate Rene in their defense?
“They are going to have me on an island,” he said. “I bring high energy, bring a high level of play. They just want me to come in there and make plays for them. They believed in my ability coming out of high school and are ecstatic about me as a player now.”
Rene is excited to showcase his skills as a big cornerback in Piscataway. And he’ll get all the opportunities he needs to show out.
“Coach Schiano is definitely fired up and feels he can help take my game to new heights, new levels. I’m happy to learn from him, coach Smith and all the other great coaches they have there. So, I’m definitely excited right now.”
Ultimately, Rene is back where he feels he belongs, and the Rutgers staff gained another playmaker along the backend which is paramount in today’s game.
“I’m coming back home. That’s where I was supposed to go,” Rene said. “I’m glad things came full circle. Expect a lot of positive change. Rutgers is getting a guy who loves ball, loves to play, loves the school and that’s going to ride or die for the team.
“Hopefully, I’ll go out there, shake things up a little bit and start help making a push for a Big Ten championship. I’m happy to be a member of Scarlet Nation and am looking forward to making a difference.”
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Todderick Hunt may be reached at [email protected].