Virginia Tech was even the first program to offer Renner a football scholarship when he was a junior at West Springfield High.
“After the games, we’d just walk around the field and I’d try to find players’ wrist bands,” Renner said this week. “It’s a great environment. I know it well.”
But when Renner and his family make their return to Lane Stadium on Thursday night, they will all be wearing North Carolina blue. Renner is the starting quarterback for the Tar Heels, who take on No. 9 Virginia Tech in a nationally televised ACC Coastal Division matchup.
For the Hokies, the game will be another step toward clinching a berth in this year’s ACC championship game. For Renner and North Carolina, it’s another opportunity to turn the attention away from a scandal that has rocked the entire athletic department in Chapel Hill, N.C., and resulted in the firing of coach Butch Davis and resignation of athletic director Dick Baddour.
North Carolina received a notice of allegations from the NCAA in June that detailed nine major violations, including a tutor providing impermissible benefits and academic assistance to players and an assistant coach who was being paid by an agent. In response, the school instituted self-imposed sanctions last month, vacating all wins from the 2008 and 2009 seasons and eliminating nine scholarships over a three-year period.
The off-field distractions have largely overshadowed this year’s 6-4 campaign. But Renner, one of six quarterbacks from Virginia starting for ACC teams this year, is leading the conference in passing efficiency and completion percentage. His 19 touchdown passes put him on track for a new school record.
Renner has also gone through some growing pains, throwing more interceptions (11) than any other ACC quarterback. But the redshirt sophomore’s progress has been a welcome diversion for an embattled coaching staff that has remained mostly intact even though Davis was let go in August.
“We recognize really for the last almost two years now, this program has been under a microscope [and] taken some shots that were unfair in a lot of ways,” offensive coordinator John Shoop said. “But guys like Bryn are so resilient. He doesn’t have thin skin.”
This sort of adversity had been foreign to Renner, a two-sport star at West Springfield who threw for more than 3,000 yards and scored 45 touchdowns to earn All-Met honors in football as a senior.
Renner says he never considered leaving North Carolina, even as he sat behind T.J. Yates for two years amid the swirling controversy within the program.
Instead, Renner immersed himself in football, leaving North Carolina’s baseball team before last spring to focus solely on playing quarterback. As Shoop put it this week, “If you were to walk down on the second floor of our facility right now, if he’s not in class, he’s probably in there watching some film.”