Patrice Rene’s football future is admittedly a bit of a mystery right now.
Oh sure, there are some givens: he’s already transferred from the University of North Carolina to Rutgers, where he’ll play this fall. And the Winnipeg Blue Bombers happily made him their third-round selection, 21st overall, in the recent Canadian Football League Draft.
Truthfully, he’s hoping he crushes it this season with the Scarlet Knights, enough to earn interest from the National Football League. And, if not, he’ll eagerly arrive in Winnipeg for camp in ’22.
Still, as much as Rene’s story is about what’s next for the 23-year-old defensive back, the foundation for this tale comes from what is already in his rearview mirror. And if there was a title that encapsulated his passion for the game and everything he has had to overcome – including a devastating ACL injury in 2019 – it would be simply called ‘The Grind.’
“I’m a very passionate person and I love the game of football,” began Rene in a chat with bluebombers.com from the Rutgers campus in New Jersey. “I’ve been playing since I was six years old and that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.
“Getting to play the game I love is something I’m very grateful for and I don’t take it for granted, especially after going through my injury and knowing the game could be taken away from you at any minute. I feel like I have an even deeper love for the game now.”
Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Rene has been rolling up his sleeves and getting after it since first pulling on a helmet and shoulder pads. He moved away at age 15 to chase his dream, leaving Ottawa after his sophomore season to play two years at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, VA. He chose Rutgers out of his 40 offers, but when the school underwent a coaching change, visited North Carolina and fell in love with the place.
He made five starts as a freshman in 2016, three more as a sophomore and then was a regular on the Tar Heels defence in 2018, his junior season. But in the second game of 2019, against the University of Miami, Rene suffered the knee injury that could have derailed his career.
“I remember when it first happened… the first couple of days I was down and feeling disappointed, but after that I had a talk with myself,” Rene recalled. “I can look at this two ways – I could continue to feel sorry for myself or attack it and not let this be the end of my story.
“Once I decided to attack it, I started the process of getting back to 100 percent. I love to work. I love to grind. I’m always in the gym doing the extra stuff. I learned a lot about myself going through that process. I wasn’t going to quit. I was going to fight back and so to get back on the field, well, there was no better feeling than that.”
That’s what made last season so important for Rene. He returned to UNC on a medical redshirt exemption and started six of 10 games. Frankly, just getting back on the field was a massive win for him.
It was in detailing his comeback and his life story that, in part, endeared Rene to the Blue Bombers in their one-on-one pre-draft interviews. There’s also the obvious maturity and leadership he exudes with every answer. Then there’s his back story and his family, both of which play massive roles in his outlook on life.
The youngest of five children – one sister, three brothers – Rene was heavily influenced by watching his parents daily. His mom Marie works at a community service centre and does some cleaning as a side gig. His father Pierre is a personal support worker who did a variety of construction and handyman jobs to help Rene chase his dream.
“My dad… look at his story with raising five kids, deciding to move to the entire family from Haiti to another country and not knowing anything, not knowing anybody,” said Rene. “I’ve seen him work two-three jobs at a time just to pay for my workout sessions, for my season, for my cleats. He just kept grinding and never complained.
“He always had a smile on his face and is a very hard-working and loving man. He always told me, ‘Life’s not perfect, Life can be hard. You’re going to go through some things, you’re going to encounter problems, but you’ve just got to push through it and grind.’
“He was the provider for our family and the person I could lean on. With the way my parents raised me I feel like I’m prepared to meet any challenge that can come my way.
“Going through that injury was definitely very tough for me,” Rene continued, “but I was able to overcome it because I have a great support system with my family – my parents, my brothers and sisters – as well as my teammates and coaches. With that and my faith I was able to overcome it.
“Adversity comes, it’s always going to be there, but you have to overcome it and learn how to adapt and persevere. It comes with the game. I was able to rehab and I feel great.”
Being drafted by the Bombers and deciding to head back to school this fall to pursue his Masters – he just finished up his sociology and communications degree – provides Rene with a bit of a mental safety net. He’ll be able to play loose and free and see what may come with the NFL, knowing he will have a spot in camp in Winnipeg next spring.
“The Bombers were great in the interview and afterward,” he said. “Both the coach and the GM told me they would be my biggest fans this season and if I come to them I would be welcomed with open arms. I’m blessed to have been drafted by the Bombers because they have a great organization from top to bottom.
“Just knowing that I have an organization behind me that believes me, has seen my talent and drafted me gives me a lot of comfort. I know I’ll have the opportunity to play professional football, which was my dream growing up. So to have that opportunity just means the world.”