GREENSBORO — Mike Glennon and Bryn Renner have known each other since they were “little,” Renner said, and in some ways they grew up together on the basketball courts and football fields they shared in northern Virginia. Now quarterbacks at rival schools, they recently reconnected earlier this month in an airport terminal.
Glennon, the N.C. State quarterback, and Renner, the North Carolina quarterback, were both headed to the Manning Passing Academy – and they both were on the same flight down to Louisiana.
“That’s when we really just started talking about our careers and how they’ve formed and stuff like that,” Renner said here on Sunday, at the ACC’s annual preseason football kickoff. “And we’ve kind of journeyed along the same path … He was behind Russell [Wilson], I was behind T.J. [Yates] – and last year was our first year playing.
“We really were just talking about how awesome it is to finally be a college football player.”
Glennon and Renner have long been familiar with each other, and they’re also part of a larger, familiar group of ACC quarterbacks whose return has inspired hope that conference might long last assert itself nationally. Five quarterbacks are returning after throwing for 3,000 yards.
Both Glennon and Renner passed the 3,000-yard mark a season ago, and they are two of the 11 ACC quarterbacks who are back after starting last season. The conference arguably has never welcomed back such experience and depth at quarterback.
“This has got to be one of the most elite-level conferences in the country for quarterbacks,” Glennon said. “I think as a quarterback it’s really exciting that my conference is one of the best. And it’s great working with those guys – they all have a lot of talent. And you get to watch them on film every week.”
Glennon and Renner were just two of the ACC’s quarterbacks who participated in the Manning Academy, where both served as camp counselors. Duke’s Sean Renfree and Wake Forest’s Tanner Price also attended. Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas and Florida State’s E.J. Manuel were invited but did not attend.
Glennon, Manuel, Renner, Price and Thomas were among the players who represented their schools at the ACC’s annual preseason kickoff, where optimism always reigns. For the ACC as a whole, though, perhaps that optimism is more warranted than it has been.
“I think so,” Wake’s Price said when asked if all the experienced quarterbacks should make the ACC stronger. “You know, the quarterback position is a vital position on the team. And typically, if your quarterback is good, your team will be successful.
“[Since] there are so many good, talented quarterbacks in this league, it’s going to make the conference a lot better.”
During the BCS era, which began in 1998, the ACC has often faltered on the national stage. ACC teams are 2-13 in BCS bowl games, and league commissioner John Swofford on Sunday emphasized the need for conference teams to perform better in their most marquee games.
If the conference can’t break through nationally in 2012, it likely won’t be because of suspect quarterback play. With all the ACC returns at the game’s most important position, “I think we’re going to be a lot stronger conference just because of it,” said Thomas, the 6-foot-6 Virginia Tech junior.
Thomas is one of six ACC starting quarterbacks who grew up in Virginia. Glennon and Renner are Virginia natives, as are Manuel, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Virginia’s Michael Rocco.
“I have no idea,” Thomas said when asked why his home state is home to so many ACC quarterbacks. “I think it’s just a good brand of football that we have in Virginia, and you’re getting better and better as the years go on and I think you have some good coaches, good teachers coming from Virginia, as well.”
The Virginia connections have also created a sense of familiarity that extends beyond the field. Speaking of his fellow Virginians, Renner said, “I’ve known all those guys for a long time.”
None longer, of course, than Glennon. During a junior varsity basketball game one year when they were still in high school, the taller Glennon came out on the perimeter to try to guard Renner, a capable outside shooter.
According to Renner’s version of the story, he attempted a shot just as Glennon tried to make a play for the ball. Glennon’s hand found its way to Renner’s nose, breaking it, but his shot went in. He had to leave the game and come back wearing a facemask, but Renner said he still wound up scoring 40 points.
“I think he dropped a lot of points on me,” Glennon said, somewhat sheepishly, as he told his version.
Glennon earned some revenge his senior season in the state high school playoffs, and again last season when the two played against each other for the first time in college. They talked about that game – a 13-0 Wolfpack victory – when they encountered each other at the airport earlier this month.
“We were just talking about how we killed them last year, and how he got sacked a lot against us,” Glennon said with a smile. “… Just kind of talked about high school and all of that. And kind of just kind of caught up – normal football talk.”
Normal football talk. For a while, such talk in the ACC has included references to its weak national perception, to its struggles in BCS bowl games and its failure to consistently compete with the sport’s elite.
It’s the kind of talk that the league’s group of starting quarterbacks – perhaps the most experienced in conference history – are desperate to change.