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November 8, 2013

Williams only latest UNC QB to step in

The news Tuesday that fifth-year senior quarterback Bryn Renner's North Carolina has ended prematurely due to a shoulder injury was both sad and frustrating.

Sad because through the most tumultuous period in UNC football history Renner was a class act who truly embellishes the "Carolina Way'' most people only talk about but few deliver.

Sad because he was within striking distance of re-writing the school record book for passing. Sad because Renner played football with great passion, was a tremendous leader and loves his team - the latter so evident Tuesday evening as he fought back tears while trying to find the right words to describe his situation.

Frustrating because this Tar Heel team is just starting to find its rhythm as it fights to become bowl eligible and Renner would have been a valuable asset down the stretch.

But with four critical games left, UNC (3-5) cannont afford to lament Renner's loss for long. It has to appreciate its fallen star while moving forward to meet the challenge of finding at least three more wins against a remaining schedule against Virginia, Pittsburgh, Old Dominion and Duke.

There are no gimmes for the Tar Heels in that lineup, but all are certainly winnable as well.

The good news is that North Carolina has another talented quarterback waiting in the wings in red-shirt sophomore Marquise Williams, who as result of Renner's misfortune will get the chance to follow in the footsteps of ex-Tar Heel quarterbacks like Ronald Curry, Oscar Davenport, Rod Elkins and Scott Stankavage.

All four received their first significant playing time for the Tar Heels due to injuries and all four rank among the top passers in school history.

Chuck Sharpe was scheduled to be the starting quarterback for UNC as preseason practice began for the 1980 season. Sharpe was a versatile punter-quarterback who had been highly recruited out of Burlington, N.C., and was used by then-Tar Heel head coach Dick Crum in 1979 to run option plays at times while substituting for starter Matt Kupec.

With Kupec graduated, the starting job for '80 seemed to be securely in Sharpe's hands. But in the first full-scale scrimmage of pre-season practice, Sharpe suffered torn ligaments in his left knee that would hinder him the rest of his career.

Enter Elkins, a sophomore from Greensboro, who went on to complete 81 of 160 passes for 1,002 yards and 11 touchdowns for a team that claimed the last Atlantic Coast Conference championship won by a North Carolina team.

A year later it was Elkins who became injured to open the door for Stankavage to see the first playing time of his college career. Elkins suffered a severe ankle sprain that thrust Stankavage - then a sophomore - into action against eventual national champion Clemson.

The Tar Heels lost 10-8, but Stankavage had proven himself capable under fire.

The next season when Elkins went down again, this time with a knee injury, Stankavage stepped in to start six games, including a 41-9 victory against arch rival N.C. State in which he tied a school record with four touchdown passes.

Davenport had seen action as a backup to starter Mike Thomas as a freshman in 1995, but a knee injury he suffered that season against Clemson put his availability for '96 in question.

So then-UNC coach Mack Brown signed junior college transfer Chris Keldorf to handle the quarterback duties for the Tar Heels. Keldorf produced what, at the time, was the most productive season passing for a UNC quarterback, throwing for 2,347 yards and 23 touchdowns.

But in the regular-season finale against Duke, Keldorf suffered a fracture dislocation of his ankle. The injury gave Davenport the opportunity to make his first college start in the Gator Bowl against nationally ranked West Virginia. He made the most of the opportunity, throwing for one touchdown and running for another to earn game most valuable player honors in a 20-13 triumph.

Davenport remained UNC's starter for the 1997 season, but as a senior in 1998 he went down in the season opener against Miami (Ohio) with torn cartilage and a partially torn ligament in his left knee. The injury required surgery and prompted the debut of perhaps the most heavily recruited athlete in Tar Heel football history - Ronald Curry.

Curry would go on to earn MVP honors in leading the Tar Heels to a 20-13 victory in the Las Vegas Bowl that season over San Diego State.

Dealing with the injury to a veteran starting quarterback is something UNC head coach Larry Fedora and offensive coordinator Blake Anderson have done before.

While at Southern Miss in Fedora and Anderson lost starting quarterback Austin Davis for the season in 2009 with a foot injury and replaced him with Martevious Young. Young went on to pass for 1,861 yards and 16 touchdowns as Davis' replacement.

"We lost Austin Davis in the second year at Southern Miss,'' Anderson said Tuesday. "Now, he was a sophomore, he wasn't a fifth-year senior. But we had to have the No. 2 guy step in and play.

"I hate it for Bryn because he is here at the end of his career and he's done a super job for us. I wanted him to be able to finish out the year and go through this. But he'll learn something from it and it'll make him stronger because of it.

"We've been through this before. It's not fun, but we'll manage. Luckily we've gotten reps for Quise the last few weeks, so he'll be more prepared to go in and win games.''

With one quarterback out with an injury, Anderson said Williams will have to play smart over the next four games to avoid being injured himself. Williams, whose running skills are a big part of his repertoire at quarterback, suffered a hard hit on a run against N.C. State that forced him out of the game briefly.

"He's got to be smart, but you can't take his personality away,'' Anderson said. "He runs the way he runs. But believe me we've had some conversations about there are some points and times he needs to understand that when to give up the fight, when to step out of bounds, when to protect your body or when to try to get the extra yard or take a guy. He's got to be conscious of that. He can't change who he is exactly, but he does need to be aware he needs to protect his body.

"But we're going to play ball, too. We're going to try to win games and hope he doesn't go down, too.''

If Williams is injured, red-shirt freshman Kanler Coker will be the next option for the Tar Heels.

Coker, who originally made a verbal commitment to play for East Carolina out of Flowery Branch High School in Georgia, A whirlwind courtship, however, eventully brought the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder to Chapel Hill.

Coker was a double-figure scorer in basketball and believed his future was in that sport before his junior season when he became the starting quarterback at North Hall High School in Gainesville, Ga. North Hall, however, ran a Wing-T offense that featured the running game, so Coker decided to transfer to Flowery Branch for his senior year where they threw the ball more often.

The move paid off as Coker completed 173 of 290 passes for 2,833 yards and 31 touchdowns, while also rushing 119 times for 837 yards and 15 more scores as a senior.

Due to Renner's injury, the opportunity is now there for Williams and Coker to show what they can do.

Hopefully for the Tar Heels, they'll enjoy the kind of success that Elkins, Stankavage, Davenport and Curry had in similar situations.


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