(CBS Local)- The 2019 NFL Draft has a plethora of talented defensive lineman. In a day and age when teams are passing the ball with more frequency and running offenses at a higher tempo, those men up front on the line are a big part of how defenses look to attack. Even among a large group of top athletes, former Arizona State defensive lineman Renell Wren stands out because of his physical traits.
Listed at 6’5″ and 315 pounds, Wren turned heads at the combine, flashing speed in the 40, finishing top 15 with a time of 5.01, strength on the bench (30 reps, t-5th), and explosiveness in the broad jump (118 inches, t-3rd). Now, as he prepares for the NFL Draft, beginning on April 25th, Wren knows that it’s about translating those impressive physical abilities into consistent domination on the field. On that front, he had his best season of his college career as a senior under coach Herm Edwards this past year, posting 43 tackles (4.5 for loss), and a sack.
Now, as he prepares for the Draft, he took some time to speak with CBS Local Sports about how he got his start in football, what drew him to Arizona State and what he wants to improve as he moves to the next level.
How did you get started playing football?
“To be honest, I didn’t start playing until my sophomore year of high school. People were aware of how big and physical I was on the basketball court, and they needed an extra body for the football team. So, I gave it a shot and ever since then, I fell in love with the game.”
Once you got started, and as you said, fell in love with the game, you decided to go to Arizona State. What was it that drew you to Tempe?
“What really drew me to it was just how beautiful the campus was. I forget who they played when I took my official visit, but the atmosphere from the student population to 50-plus thousand people at a football game compared to like 100 at my high school games. It was phenomenal. And the campus was huge, and I had never seen anything like it, so I took my best bet and landed there in 2014.”
And the rest is history. As for your game, you mentioned being a physical guy on the basketball court. Is that why you were put on the defensive line when you started playing?
“Exactly. It was just the physicality that I showed on the court and knowing that they wanted a big body on the squad. I played everywhere when I first got started though. All along the defensive front, left and right tackle on offense, on the kickoff team, everywhere. But, as the years came when I added some more weight that is when I really started to focus on the defensive line and making my way there.”
You mention putting weight on, and that’s a big part of that first few years in the college game. You mentioned in an interview you added about 45 pounds in your freshman year, what was it like to go through that process?
“I just look at it as growing up and developing. I came in my freshman year at like 255-260 and left my senior year at 305. Then, I attended the Reese’s Senior Bowl and weighed in there at 315. So, I put on even more weight just training in San Diego as I was getting ready for the Combine. Now, I have been consistent at 315, and it’s just part of the development years.”
On that front, you were mentioned on Bruce Feldman’s 2018 “Freaks” list of college football for your exploits in the weight room, I’m just curious, did you always know you were a little different than everyone else in terms of your capacity and ability in the weight room? Or was that something you only realized when other people told you what you were doing wasn’t “normal”?
“It was really when other people told me that I realized it. I just love to be in the weight room, and I’m also competitive. So, if I see somebody that is lifting heavier weight, I would go and do it heavier times two. For me, I just like to stay fit. Be strong, look strong and play strong on the field. That is my mentality. I have always loved being in the gym ever since high school, working on getting stronger.”
As you said, you had the chance to play in the Reese’s Senior Bowl. What was it like for you to play with and against some of the stars of the college game that you may not have had the chance to play against in college?
“When I attended the Senior Bowl, I just came in with the mindset that I had to dominate every play. Every opportunity that I got I knew I had to take full advantage of. Knowing that when I lined up against the best of the best in college football I had to keep that chip on my shoulder to continue to work to raise my draft stock and be the best player that I can be.
It was great competition that whole week, and it definitely prepared me for what is to come at the next level.”
You went through a coaching change during your time at Arizona State, with Herm Edwards coming in for your senior year. What was it like for you to go through that process? And what did you learn having a guy like Coach Edwards around, who has been a player, coach and analyst in this game?
“First and foremost, I just want to thank Coach Edwards for believing in me and putting me in a position where he knows I’m going to be successful. We had many conversations about what is yet to come, what the next level will bring and how to be prepared.
As for the coaching changes, I just take it as part of the business. I know that at the end of the day coaches and players are going to do what they have to do, and you can’t do anything about that. At the end of the day, you can only control what you do.
When he (Coach Edwards) first got to ASU in spring ball with us, I knew I had to go hard and not just be comfortable where I’m at, because he is not afraid to play incoming freshman, or a sophomore or junior ahead of you. His favorite quote is, ‘you play to win the game’. So, in order to win the game, he is going to put the best 11 people out on the field and just go dominate.”
Was there any piece of advice that he gave you that sticks out?
“Not really advice as much as telling me what he saw in practice and on game film. He was always really positive too, telling me that ‘you have all the tools and all of the God-given abilities, but now it is just all putting it together, because when you go to the next level, there will be people that are as good as you and better than you with proper technique.’ He really focused on helping me realize what I can do and what I need to continue to work on.
Now, on a related point, I have seen you described as a laid-back type of guy. But, when you’re out on the field, you’re more aggressive and physical. I’m wondering how that switch gets flipped for you? How do you put yourself in that mindset?
“That’s a really good question. When it comes to being out on the football field, it’s almost a business mindset, just knowing that I have to take care of business on the field. You don’t have to have that same aggressiveness off the field as you do on it, so flipping that switch is more about just knowing that it’s all about business out on that field. The mindset of knowing that you have a family to feed and this isn’t a game that you’re just playing for yourself. You’re playing for your family too.
And, on top of that, when you love the game you know what you’re getting into, that you’re there for a reason. When you love the game, or anything that you do, you just realize that you’re there for a reason, and it’s time to work.”
As you have gone through this process, what has it been like for your family? We focus a lot on the players, understandably so, but I’m curious what your family thinks about the whole process?
“My family has been really excited about the process that I’m going through. From attending the Senior Bowl to going to the Combine to working out six days a week to prepare for everything, it was stressful. But it was definitely well worth it, because I have done a lot of great things prior to these past couple months. And to be able to have the coaches see what I can do and then tell them that if I get selected to their organization, that I’m all business and here to win.”
Finally Renell, as you prepare for this next level, what is the biggest thing you’re looking to improve upon in your game?
“I’m really focusing on technique. I have everything that God has blessed me with, in terms of the physical tools and attributes to be able to help a team. But, now it’s about the proper technique, because once you get to the league, everybody is big and strong there. You can’t just beat them with your athleticism. There has to be technique, and if you can get that down, you’ll win all the time.”