One of the most important qualities a leader can have is humility.
Check that box off for Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams, who opted to don jersey No. 2 in honor of the man, Bryn Renner, for whom he took over for behind center.
Head coach Larry Fedora was pleased, though not particularly surprised, by Williams’ classy gesture.
“It was important to him. He wanted to honor Bryn. He knew Bryn couldn’t be there, and he wanted to honor him. They’re very close. Those guys have been in that little room for three years together. And Marquise will tell you that he’s learned a lot from Bryn, and he appreciates that. It’s kind of like Bryn has passed the team on to Marquise, and Marquise is appreciative and just wanted to honor him with his play on Saturday,” Fedora said.
Williams indeed honored Renner, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in a win over NC State. Williams completed 15 of 28 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 46 more yards in a 45-14 rout of Virginia. He even became the first Tar Heels quarterback to snare a touchdown catch in nearly three decades. All in all, not a bad day’s work for the third-year sophomore from Charlotte who prepared for the opportunity longer than Fedora even initially realized.
“When we started camp after him missing the spring and we’re not with him in the summer, it was obvious to [offensive coordinator] Blake [Anderson] and I that he had worked really hard during that time, because when he got to camp he was ahead of where he was coming out of last season. And we didn’t expect that, we really didn’t. So that was impressive for me, that I knew that he had put in the time and the effort away from us and it meant a lot to him. That’s when I knew that it meant so much to Marquise that he was going to have a chance.
“I didn’t know what to expect after he came to camp. I didn’t expect him to be at the level he was. I thought we were going to have to bring him back from the start, basically, and it was nothing like that,” said Fedora, who has led his team to three straight wins and back into the bowl game picture.
Williams also brings the added threat of a running game to the backfield, with over 50 yards rushing in three of the past four games.
“It’s made a world of difference for us. Because now that he is a runner, the defense has to always take into account that he’s a threat. It opens up things in the passing game… it just opens up a lot of things. Then when you have teams like this last week that focused on Eric [Ebron] so much, it just gave us a lot of things that we don’t normally get in a game.”
Williams’ versatility will be appreciated when the Tar Heels take on Pitt, which features standout defensive lineman Aaron Donald. Fedora respects Donald’s presence on the Panthers ‘D’.
“He’s got great quickness, really, really quick get-off and he’s very agile, very good athlete, and he’s got a great motor. He’s got everything that you’re looking for in a defensive lineman. He’s got that motor that never quits, he’s always going hard and he is really a good football player. He’s an All-America candidate and it is very well deserved,” Fedora said.
The Tar Heels have a major test on their hands with Pitt (5-4, 2-3 ACC) coming off an impressive win over Notre Dame. The Panthers defense was stellar, with safety Ray Vinopal recording a pair of fourth quarter interceptions and causing a first half turnover when he stripped Irish receiver TJ Jones of the ball.
“I told him big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, and he did that out there for us. I thanked him and gave him a hug and was really excited for him,” Donald said of Vinopal, who garnered ACC Defensive Back of the Week honors.
It appears that Williams and his Tar Heel teammates will have to be ready for a fired-up Panthers squad Saturday in Pittsburgh.