UNC quarterback Bryn Renner emotional, reflective after college career ends early

acarter@newsobserver.comNovember 5, 2013 

— Bryn Renner spoke through tears, his voice cracking at times. He spoke about the first time he walked onto the practice fields at North Carolina, where he stood on Tuesday night, and spoke of playing for three head coaches, of playing through turmoil and injuries, and how he thought he’d play through one more.

“It’s tough, you know,” Renner said just before the emotions started to come out of him on Tuesday, after learning that he’d played his final college game. “Just the fact that it’s over, it kind of just sunk in. So it’s been a good five years, but I can’t thank coaches and teammates and all my brothers in the locker room.

“(They) mean a lot to me. I’m sorry for getting emotional.”

It was only about four-and-a-half years ago that Renner, the fifth-year UNC quarterback, showed up here for the first time. Then he woke up Monday morning, his left shoulder still sore from a dislocation he suffered during the Tar Heels’ victory on Saturday at N.C. State.

He was nervous then, because he hadn’t yet received word about the MRI test he underwent on Sunday. Renner had a feeling that meant the news wasn’t good, and he was right. Doctors determined he partially tore his labrum, and that he’d fractured his scapula, a bone more commonly known as the shoulder blade.

Last Thursday, he walked off the practice fields at UNC having put in nearly a week of preparation for the Wolfpack. As it turned out, it was the last time Renner walked off these fields wearing a Tar Heels’ practice jersey. He returned on Tuesday night toward the end of practice, a passenger in a golf cart, wearing jeans and a pullover.

“I didn’t want to be a distraction,” Renner said, explaining why he showed up only at the end of practice and not the beginning. “That’s one thing I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be a distraction to this team. We’re rolling right now.

“Marquise (Williams) is going to do a great job, Kanler (Coker) is going to do a great job. They’re going to put their full effort on the field, and that’s one thing I don’t want to be, is be a distraction for this team.”

Williams, the third-year sophomore from Charlotte, now becomes UNC’s starting quarterback. He has shared time at the position with Renner in recent weeks, and his mobility has helped spark the offense. Coker, a second-year freshman who has never played in a college game, will be Williams’ backup.

Going forward, that’s the plan for the Tar Heels, who have won two consecutive games after a 1-5 start. Tuesday, though, wasn’t necessarily about the future, but about the past and the present, and end of Renner’s three-season tenure as UNC’s quarterback. Statistically, Renner ranks among the best in school history.

He completed 66.5 percent of his passes, which is a school record. He ranks second in school history in passing touchdowns (64), and third in passing yards (8,221). His pass efficiency rating of 151.22 is the highest in ACC history. If there was a statistical category that measured adversity, Renner would likely be at the top there, too.

He arrived here in 2009 to play for former coach Butch Davis, and just in time for an NCAA violations scandal to erupt. Renner’s first season as a starter came under Everett Withers, the interim head coach who replaced Davis. Then came Larry Fedora, who implemented a completely different offense. While Renner studied the new offense, he and his teammates learned they’d sit serve a one-season postseason ban for violations others had committed.

“You know, it’s been rough,” Renner said. “Three coaches in five years. I’ve seen it all. Experienced it all. Not being able to go to a bowl game (despite) winning the (Coastal Division) title, and (we) accomplished a lot in my career.”

Renner cried at times Tuesday night. He smiled when he thought of the first time he’d first stepped on the practice fields, more than four years ago now. He said he’d “never forget it” – that visor he wore on his helmet, how he had his chinstrap buckled on and ready to go, how he took snaps from Jonathan Cooper, who became an All-American offensive guard.

It was his dream, he said, to become a college quarterback. And here he had lived it for more than four years.

“I have a ton of memories,” he said, “and a ton of friendships were made on this field.”

He had been planning to make more memories – positive ones – after the Tar Heels’ disappointing 1-5 start. They’ve won two consecutive games, and the offense seemed to be turning around. Now leading the offense will be up to Williams, who said he learned early Tuesday afternoon that Renner had been lost for the season.

Renner and Williams are years apart, and their playing styles different. They had grown close, though.

“He texted me and I just broke down,” Williams said. “… That’s just somebody I always look up to, and I’m going to continue to look up to him. That’s like my big brother from another mother.”

Williams credits some of his growth to Renner’s mentoring. Renner considered leaving school after last season to enter the NFL draft, Blake Anderson, the offensive coordinator, said on Tuesday, but instead decided against it.

Anderson didn’t want to think how much more difficult a difficult season would have been without Renner.

“You can’t really quantify what it means,” Anderson said. “But we wouldn’t still be sticking together. We’d have thrown in the towel a long time ago, I think, without guys like him and (fellow seniors) A.J. Blue and (James) Hurst. They mean the world to us.”

It hasn’t been the kind of senior season Renner expected, and this isn’t the kind of ending he envisioned, either. He began the season with aspirations of competing for the Coastal Division championship and then, at the least, hoped to lead a rally toward bowl eligibility. But now it’s over for him.

His surgery is scheduled for Wednesday, and then he will begin the rehabilitation process in hopes of preparing for the NFL draft. On Tuesday, though, he was still trying to process something that had just hit him – that his college career was over. After all he’d experienced - the coaching turnover and the NCAA mess and the postseason ban - was it it unfair, how it ended for him? Someone asked Renner the question.

“Life is unfair,” he said. “You deal with the circumstances. But I think it’s definitely (grown) me up and (increased my) maturity level as far as how to handle situations. … You can say all that stuff – it’s unfair. But I think it’s very fair, and I’ve had a great career.”

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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