This story was corrected at 9:30 a.m. May 7.
Teammates suspended for mingling with agents, a roiling academic scandal, coaches fired, a bowl ban and a season-ending injury as a senior. Former West Springfield quarterback Bryn Renner didn’t sign up for any of those things when he committed to play for Butch Davis and the University of North Carolina after a sparkling career with the Spartans five years ago. He was looking to go to a good school, join a team packed with likely NFL players and work with a coach who won a Super Bowl as a Cowboys assistant and helped recruit NCAA champions at the University of Miami.
Things don’t always work out the way you plan them.
“Everybody always has the pie-in-the-sky vision of the career you want to have,” said Renner’s father, Bill, who coached Bryn at West Springfield along with leading Mount Vernon and Langley for multiple seasons. “You want the Heisman, the ACC Player of the Year, etc. But I’m of the persuasion that if you want to be a pro, that’s not always the best route to take. The more adversity you can go through, and persevere, in college, the better pro you’re going to be.
“Would I have wished all that on my son, or the program? No. But the kids who went through that, that are coming out now, they have a more realistic idea of what a pro situation is going to be like.”
There’s no doubt Bill Renner knows what he’s talking about. In addition to coaching in Fairfax County for most of his career before moving to North Carolina to be close to his son, he was a punter for the Green Bay Packers in 1986 and 1987.
“In any sport, baseball or football, he knew what it took,” says Bobby Wahl, Renner’s baseball and football teammate in high school, who is now pitching in the Oakland Athletics organization after being drafted in the fifth round last summer. “Coach Renner wanted to find a way to play in the NFL and he instilled that in Bryn. It was never forced, but it was picked up on. Bryn saw that in his dad and … ran with it.”
And by most accounts, Renner will have a chance to play in the NFL. While his draft stock might have been higher a year ago — coming off a junior season with the Tar Heels where he threw for over 3,300 yards and 28 touchdowns — he is still expected to be chosen during this weekend’s NFL Draft in the fifth or sixth round, according to analysts.
“If you are in the horse business, you do bloodlines, and in this case you’re talking about the son of a coach, gym rat type of a kid, loves the game. Now he feels he’s got something extra to prove,” said Charles Davis of the NFL Network, noting the broken left (non-throwing) shoulder Renner suffered in November. “He won’t go in the top tier of the quarterbacks, he won’t go probably in the second tier of the quarterbacks, but I think in the third tier you’ve got Bryn Renner there and he’s a guy I like a bunch.”
Renner was scrambling upfield in a game at North Carolina State when he dove for an extra yard and was crunched by a pair of Wolfpack players. He immediately called for trainers and was helped off the field. He tried to return later in the game, but the injury was too severe and it ended his senior season after only seven games.
“I worked my tail off recovering from the injury, and I made it back in about three-and-a-half months, and it usually takes about five to be fully healthy,” said Renner, who worked out in Irvine, Calif., with a handful of prospects, including fellow quarterback Blake Bortles, a potential first-round draft choice. “We talked about honing your craft. Taking pride in learning everything you can about your position.”
One of the coaches leading the training camp was Ted Tollner, a veteran college and NFL coach who specializes in quarterbacks.
“[I was] doing board work with him, watching film. We were there from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Then I had to do extra rehab,” Renner said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Everything I hope pro football would be, I got out there. It was all quarterback-specific stuff… It opened my eyes to a different level of training.”
Renner packed on some muscle and felt his body getting healthier. He ended up running a 4.87-second 40-yard dash, smack in the middle of the 15 quarterbacks who attended the NFL Scouting combine earlier this year.
When Renner hears his name called this weekend, he’ll be a long way from Northern Virginia, literally and figuratively. But his reputation is still strong here, says veteran coach Eric Henderson, who will be taking over Hayfield’s football program this summer.
“As far as college, and potential pro career, he’s right up there with [Tampa Bay quarterback] Mike Glennon,” Henderson said. “I remember him having the big arm and being very polished for a high school kid. He played a lot of shootout games, especially as West Springfield went into the playoffs.”
The game most fans will remember is the Spartans’ 49-43 loss to Oakton in the second round of the playoffs on Nov. 14, 2008. The Cougars jumped out to a 28-10 halftime lead and stretched it to 49-22 in the third quarter, then Renner led the West Springfield comeback with 419 passing yards and 101 rushing.
“We called it the Fog Bowl — you couldn’t see the other side of the field most of the game. It was some crazy weather,” said Oakton quarterback Chris Coyer, who went on to play for Temple and is hoping to continue his football career as a free-agent signee this spring as an H-back. “With two minutes left in the game, they were marching down the field, moving the chains. It came down to about 4th-and-5. He took off running and we stopped him an inch short. They measured it and we were able to kneel it out.”
There were a handful of potential pro players in that game: Trey Watts (Tulsa), Adham Talaat (Gallaudet) and Jack Tyler (Virginia Tech) are all hoping to get invites to NFL camps this year.
Even if Renner is among the free agents, instead of coming to a team as a heralded draft pick, it seems as if he’ll be OK. The turmoil in college, the letdown of a major injury and the fight to come back have combined to give him a good perspective on the future.
“No matter if I’m drafted, or if I’m a free agent, or if I have to go to Canada – no matter where I play, I want to show I can play the game and play at a high level,” he said. “Every day I wake up, I feel like I’m one step closer to my dream of being an NFL quarterback.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Butch Davis won a national title as head coach at the University of Miami. Davis left the school before the ‘01 title.