CHAPEL HILL — Marquise Williams chose to play quarterback at North Carolina in part because his cousin played football there during the 1990s. He also felt a connection with the Tar Heels’ former coaching staff – especially with former offensive coordinator John Shoop.
But UNC fired head coach Butch Davis before the start of the 2011 season, and Shoop left after new coach Larry Fedora brought in a completely new staff in January. The transition from one coaching staff to another was difficult on many players, especially Williams, who graduated early from Charlotte’s Mallard Creek High to enroll at UNC to play for Shoop.
“It was very tough,” Williams said earlier this week, “because I went through three coaches by the time I got here (to where I am now).”
As challenging as the coaching changes were on some players, the arrival of a new staff – and a new offensive philosophy – has also been a blessing to Williams. After redshirting his freshman season, he now finds himself competing with returning starter Bryn Renner for the Tar Heels’ top quarterback spot.
Renner, a rising junior, has the advantage in experience. In his 13 starts a season ago, he passed for 3,086 yards and 26 touchdowns. But the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Williams brings his own advantages to the quarterback competition. His athleticism and natural style of play appear to be a good match for Fedora’s spread offense.
“I just love it,” Williams said of UNC’s new offense. “… It’s a faster pace. And what I did back in high school was just run-and-gun, and you never knew what our offense was going to do. Are we going to run the ball, or are we going to throw the ball?”
During his senior season at Mallard Creek, Williams passed for 3,034 yards, rushed for 1,147 more and accounted for 64 touchdowns, both throwing and running. He earned Parade All-American honors, and Rivals.com ranked among the top 10 “dual-threat” quarterback prospects in the nation.
Before Fedora’s arrival, though, Williams had been attempting to fit into a traditional, pro-style offense at UNC. In Shoop’s system, Williams would have spent the majority of his time under center, trying to fit into the mold of a drop-back passer.
The Tar Heels have completed nine of their 15 spring practices, and though the sample size isn’t large, rising sophomore running back Giovani Bernard has noticed a difference this spring in Williams. Bernard, who arrived at UNC in the same recruiting class as Williams, said Williams is more comfortable, and more vocal.
“He doesn’t have to go under center, which kind of helps him out with the reads,” Bernard said. “He doesn’t have to do two things at once … (and) whenever he goes in with the ‘twos,’ he’s really controlling the offense. And that’s what I’ve seen different from last year. … He’s a lot more vocal.”
Fedora has said that “every position is wide open” during his first spring at UNC, and he reiterated that point again on Monday after his team’s practice. Williams has been working mostly with the second-team offense during spring practice, but he also has received repetitions with the first team.
Though Williams expressed disappointment at not being able to play for Shoop, Blake Anderson, the Tar Heels first-year offensive coordinator, sensed excitement when he had a chance to spend time with Williams for the first time. The two talked about how Williams could fit into Fedora’s up-tempo offense.
“I think he felt like it would give him a better chance to compete,” Anderson said.