CHAPEL HILL — If new North Carolina starter Bryn Renner throws a 60-yard touchdown pass this season, he promises to keep his reaction low-key.
Really. OK, probably.
Well, he will try.
"I've always been energetic - even as a little kid, I couldn't keep still," the 6-foot-3, 210 pound quarterback from West Springfield, Va., said recently. "And I've always been extremely competitive. I want to win at everything; that's just who I am. ... I've learned there are times when I need to keep my emotions in check, and I've worked on my poise, my maturity ... but it's not always easy."
When the Tar Heels open the season at Kenan Stadium on Saturday against James Madison, it will be with a distinctly different personality leading the team behind center. Whereas four-year starter T.J. Yates kept his competitive fire tucked behind a stoic, easygoing persona en route to setting more than 40 school records, Renner freely displays a more fiery enthusiasm.
Renner bumps fists. He bumps chests. He's been known to yell in huddles. Even during interviews, his answers crackle with an eagerness to sprint back onto the football field and show what he can do.
None of that's a bad thing, considering his knack for threading long passes, a talent that earned him the nickname "Gunner" in high school. He's also more mobile than Yates, now an NFL rookie with the Houston Texans.
According to John Shoop, UNC's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Renner is also the hardest-working quarterback he's ever been around in college or the NFL.
"I think an underrated quality of leadership is authenticity, so we don't want to change who Bryn is," Shoop said. "He's an energetic guy, he's an emotional guy ... but what he has been learning is that there is a time, as a quarterback, where you do want to keep that in check more than others."
Renner figures that he comes by his competitive nature naturally. His father Bill Renner is a former Virginia Tech and Green Bay Packers punter who now coaches East Chapel Hill High's football team. His mother Cindy is a former cheerleader, and his sister Summer is a Rockette.
One of his grandfathers played pro hockey, he said; the other played minor league baseball. And a grandmother played college basketball. All that athleticism has bred healthy appetites for competition.
In the Renner family, even a game of Old Maid is cutthroat.
"I can remember I was at my Grandma's house one time, and I was like 6, and you know the game Clue?" Renner said. "All my cousins and my Grandma were around the board, and I lost - and I threw everything off (the board), I was so mad. ... I got in trouble after that one."
At age 6, Renner - who would also become an avid baseball player, basketball player and golfer - was already showing signs of the family's athletic streak. In his first Pee Wee football game at linebacker, he returned an interception to the 1-yard line. He says he's still irked that his team didn't score from there.
After passing for nearly 6,000 yards and 67 touchdowns in his final two high school seasons, Renner admits that he thought he was ready to compete for the starting job when he arrived at UNC in 2009. Then he saw Yates deal with injuries and criticism that season, and Renner's bravado took a well-needed retreat.
"I think I had all the physical tools. I just had to take the mental steps," Renner said. "So I took a step back, watched film, learned a ton about the whole offense ... and watched how T.J. dealt with everything. I humbled myself, and it was good for me."
After redshirting the 2009 season, he moved in with Yates - one of his best friends now - the summer of 2010. The two quarterbacks were neck-and-neck that spring and last fall, and Shoop said the competition made both quarterbacks improve. Yates ultimately won the starting job, but Renner, who played in three games and threw only two passes last season, won something else: another year to learn.
"Deep down, in the back of my mind, I was like, 'Yeah, I really want to play,'" Renner said. "But I prepared each week like I was going to be the starter ... and now, I know I'm more ready than last year. I'm also such a competitive person that I feel like I have something to prove, and I think that helps, too."
As eager as he is to finally start, Renner emphasizes that he knows his role this season is to lead, not to star.
"Coach Shoop talks about it all the time, to get the ball out of your hands and let the other players do the job for you," he said. "I've got great running backs in Ryan (Houston) and Gio (Bernard). Dwight Jones can catch anything. I've got a great offensive line in front of me. I'm kind of like the point guard - it's my job to distribute."
And then, he hopes, to help celebrate afterward.
Teammates say they've been inspired by Renner's extroverted personality, but how deftly he harnesses his emotions during games will be key.
"A lot of times in the huddle, Bryn is yelling and fired up," Tar Heels offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper said. "I have to go tell him, 'Relax. You are the quarterback. Let me get on guys.' He's like, 'We're going to smash them!' and I'm like, 'No, you're not. You are the quarterback. You're going to throw the ball. You're not going to hit anybody.' "
Shoop said Renner has the tools, ability and work ethic to be a great quarterback, although he always cautions that you never know what you're going to get out of a player until he competes in front of crowds of 60,000 or more fans. But no matter what happens Saturday, Shoop said he knows his starting quarterback won't lack one key component: passion.
"Bryn has the same energy on the football field as when he's playing basketball in the back yard or a board game," Shoop said, "and you've got to love that."