Canadian Patrice Rene Filled with Gratitude Ahead of Orange Bowl

Patrice Rene
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As the lights go out at Hard Rock Stadium after Saturday’s Orange Bowl, Patrice Rene will no longer be a Tar Heel.

Not many Canadians make it to NCAA Football, let alone a New Year’s Six Bowl.

For Rene, it’s the payoff for a journey marked with sacrifice.

At 15, the North Carolina cornerback moved away from his parents in Ottawa, Ontario, to a country he never lived in before.

Rene, now a senior, will step onto the field Saturday night in Miami Gardens, Fla, competing in the school’s inaugural Orange Bowl appearance.

“This season has been about proving that I can be healthy and compete at a high level,” Rene said in a telephone interview with us. “Every time I was out there, I knew I would go out there and give everything that I have for my team, myself, and showcase my talents. Excited for this weekend for my team to be in the Orange Bowl.”

The path to the Orange Bowl for Rene consisted of numerous difficulties. After all, it’s a little over a year since he tore his right ACL against the Miami Hurricanes.

Knee injuries normally take nine months to heal. But due to the global pandemic, the health restrictions prevented Rene from working with the Tar Heels strength and training staff. The healing process took almost a year before Rene suited up with his Tar Heels teammates again.

Once the pandemic hit North America, Rene went back home to Ottawa with his family. This complicated matters when the young cornerback needed to get back to Chapel Hill for summer training. A delayed process eventually led to Rene getting an exemption from the Embassy, allowing him to return to campus and train for the upcoming season.

While social distancing and isolation may affect some players, Rene was undeterred. The year-long recovery put things in perspective, and his deep faith makes him believe that nothing happens by accident.

“Having it happen in the second game of my senior year, a night game versus Miami, it was a hard pill to swallow,” said Rene on his injury. “Once I accepted it, I know everything happens for a reason and I was able to come to peace with it. I love to work and grind, I am always driven. I just took the approach that I have to get up and attack this every day. For me, it was not feeling for myself and I took it for what it was. I had to attack the rehab process and it’s worked out great so far.”

Very few moments in Rene’s life exist without football. Born in Haiti, Rene and his parents moved to Canada when he was two years old. Soccer was the initial sport of choice for the youngster. But when his peers started to play football, Rene grew attached to the sport.

The running, the movement, the open fields, the camaraderie, all of it appealed to the Ottawa native.

“Football can teach you so much about life,” Rene said. “I saw that from an early age. It’s a beautiful game that teaches you about toughness and adversity. I don’t think I’ve been able to go through the things I’ve gone through in life without football.”

Rene played for the Orleans Bengals of the Ontario Minor Football Association. During this time, he met Victor Tedondo, the founder of the Gridiron Academy in Ottawa. The program provides young kids, like Rene, the training and athletic foundation necessary to play collegiate football.

Tedondo trained over 25 Division I athletes, including three UA All-Americans. Rene credits Tedondo for inspiring him to pursue his football dreams in the States.

“I remember with my friends playing in the snow up in Canada,” Rene said. “He [Victor] taught me to keep your brother accountable, you got be accountable, we are all in this together. You can get through anything as long as your brothers are with you. I owe a lot to Victor, he’s definitely been an impactful person to me.”

When Rene played at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, VA, the attention grew. More eyeballs paid attention to the young corner, as schools began making Rene offers.

After his commitment to Rutgers fell through, he landed at the University of North Carolina. When Rene arrived, the program was experiencing a transition, after their 11-win 2015 season.

The timing of Rene’s injury during the 2019 season was unfortunate. After playing every single game in 2018, Rene worked hard in the offseason to improve. Rene’s devastating knee injury prevented him from being on the field for the Tar Heels’ 2019 Military Bowl victory over Temple.

Despite missing extended time, Rene’s presence permeated across the culture of the team.

“Patrice has been like a big brother to me,” said sophomore defensive back Trey Morrison. “He’s a great leader of our group, so he’s always out there vocally leading. If he’s not in the game he’s cheering us on the sideline and just leading in every way he can.”

Linebacker Tomon Fox came to the Tar Heels in the same class as Rene. Fox recognizes what Rene brings to the team, both on and off the field.

“He has that personality where he makes everyone around him want to just work and be better,” Fox said. “This year, last year, he always gets noticed in the weight room for just being the person who’s talking, trying to get everybody better, and you translate that to the field, too, trying to keep everybody up-tempo and make sure nobody is slacking, having their head down or anything like that.”

No one was more excited than Rene, when he ran onto the field of Kenan Memorial Stadium, taking on Virginia Tech in October. The Tar Heels defeated the Hokies 56-45. And Rene, playing in his first game since tearing his ACL, registered five total tackles, three of them solo.

For his career with the Tar Heels, Rene has 103 total tackles, 74 solo with two interceptions. The Canadian doesn’t dwell on the reality of missing many games in the last two seasons. He focuses on doing what he can to help his team, in this case trying to win an Orange Bowl on Saturday against the Texas A&M Aggies.

Rene is another Canadian on the list of young, talented football prospects born north of the border. While the perception exists that Canadians aren’t as talented in football as those growing up in America, Rene believes the opposite is true. That if more eyes watched and analyzed Canadian talent, opportunities blossom at prestigious programs.

“We have a whole bunch of talent in the Ottawa area,” Rene said. “It’s just a matter of getting them the exposure. Every week, we’d go to different showcases just to get our names out there. Once we got there, we always were able to compete. At least two or three guys would get awards. That gave us the confidence because we knew we could play with anybody.”

After the Orange Bowl, Rene invests his attention in preparing for the CFL and NFL combines.

As Tar Heels defensive coordinator Jay Bateman says: 

“I think he [Rene] will have a chance to play in the Canadian Football League for 100 years.”

Whatever the future holds, the sacrifice to relocate paid off for the cornerback, as he continues to pursue his football dream.

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