CHAPEL HILL Bryn Renner and T.J. Yates talk or text with each other just about every day.
Much of the time, the former roommates talk about the prosaic things that close friends would be expected to discuss. Last weekend was the Houston Texans’ open week, and Yates, the Texans’ backup quarterback, went hunting at a ranch outside Houston with former UNC long snapper Trevor Stuart. Renner is also close friends with Stuart, so part of him wished he could have joined his buddies shooting hogs in Texas.
But there are other times when Yates is more of a sounding board for Renner. Both players see similarities in Yates’ junior season at UNC and the senior campaign Renner is having.
Renner was a freshman when Yates was a junior in 2009, redshirting during a year in which the Tar Heels’ offense struggled to adapt to life without talented wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. As the team failed to live up to expectations, much of the fans’ frustration zeroed in on Yates. At one point, Yates was even booed at a basketball game at Smith Center when he was featured as part of the “I am a Tar Heel” marketing video.
“His junior year when I first got to campus was something that I’d never seen an athlete have to deal with,” Renner said. “I got to see it first hand with being his roommate and being the guy that he kind of leaned on to give him positive feedback.”
Renner has not had it so rough during his senior season, but there’s little question the year has not progressed as he had hoped.
Notwithstanding a tough first half in UNC’s disappointing performance against East Carolina (11-of-23 passing with one interception), Renner’s numbers generally have been respectable – for the season, he has completed 65.6 percent of his throws, averaged 273.5 yards passing per game and thrown 10 touchdowns against four interceptions.
But Renner’s something of a perfectionist, and interceptions such as the one late in the Miami loss – UNC was leading by three points at the time and driving in Hurricanes territory – stick in his memory. Also not helping things is the fact many of his throws earlier in the year were noticeably off target.
And the bottom line is UNC lost five of its first six games before beating Boston College last weekend.
“Things aren’t exactly going as well as everybody wants it to down there,” Yates said. “They’re struggling with guys getting hurt and not having the talent that they did last year. It’s kind of a transition year for the team, which especially for Bryn is hard because he’s looking to have a strong senior season.
“I know how it is. My junior year, we were struggling offensively. We were running the ball good, but as far as a quarterback, it was a rough year for me. It’s a little different because I think Bryn is playing well.”
UNC’s coaches believe Renner has made progress in the two games since he had to sit out the Oct. 5 loss at Virginia Tech with a left foot injury.
Renner completed more than 80 percent of his passes against Miami and Boston College, seeming to adjust to life in a quarterback rotation with sophomore Marquise Williams. The hope is that will continue when the Tar Heels (2-5, 1-3) play at N.C. State (3-4, 0-4) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
“He’s made better decisions for the most part,” UNC offensive coordinator Blake Anderson said. “He had a critical mistake against Miami, obviously, that we’d all love to have back, but he really protected the ball Saturday.
“He’s handled the transition from one to two quarterbacks – obviously no senior quarterback wants to split reps with anybody or have any of his reps taken away. But he’s handled it really well.”
When Renner first got to UNC, Yates said the young quarterback’s competitiveness sometimes gave him trouble. To help Renner rein in his emotions, Yates shared his experience – mainly that teammates would start to question a quarterback’s suitability for the job if they saw him get flustered or appear to lose confidence.
For Yates, the fact Renner hasn’t allowed the quarterback rotation to derail his season is a testament to Renner’s maturation. Because Yates knows there is some agitation.
“I know he won’t say it because it seems to be working, but he’s a little frustrated with the whole switch-around-thing that they’re doing,” Yates said. “Marquise is playing good and Bryn’s a team guy – he’s going to support whatever helps the offense move – but I know how unnerving that can be for a quarterback.
“Especially the last game – he was pretty much on fire, and he had to keep coming in and out of the game, which is frustrating for any quarterback in that situation.”
If he were so inclined, Renner could be frustrated with the way much of his career at UNC has panned out.
He committed to UNC in high school largely because of his relationship with former coach Butch Davis and offensive coordinator John Shoop.
“I was really, really close with that staff,” Renner said. “I was their guy.”
While the feeling might be slightly different under the current regime, Renner said he loves how Anderson and UNC coach Larry Fedora have allowed him to continue to be a leader. And even if this season hasn’t gone exactly according to script, Renner still considers the Tar Heels his team.
As adversity has followed him throughout his years in Chapel Hill, Renner said he has put to use the lessons he internalized from watching Yates four seasons ago.
“That junior season when the fans were kind of giving him flak for the job he’s done – he kept pushing,” Renner said. “That’s kind of what I’ve been doing this whole season – keep plugging, keep plugging.”
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