Kanler Coker didn’t register a single statistic for the North Carolina football team in 2012, but he was never far from action the entire year.
The Flowery Branch High graduate spent his freshman year with the Tar Heels as the team’s third quarterback, which earned him a spot on the road roster. With second-year quarterback Bryn Renner in full control of the position, his chances to play were few and far between, but the experience he gained on the sidelines each week was one he’ll carry with him for the rest of his college career.
“I went to all the away games and got to experience a lot,” Coker said. “It was a great experience, especially because I got to stay with Bryn and see how he prepares. All the meetings — you get a feel for everything.”
Coker will have to wait one more year for consistent playing time with Renner entering his final year at North Carolina this upcoming season, but he’s well aware of what’s around the corner in 2014: A massive battle for the starting quarterback job.
The Tar Heels will have three quarterbacks competing for the position that year, and Coker is one of them.
“There’s going to be some serious battling,” Coker said. “Me and those other two guys — one’s older than me by a year and one is younger than me by a year — it’s up for grabs.”
It’s a dream job for Coker, who was eventually redshirted near the end of the 2012 season. He’ll vie for the position against rising sophomore and last year’s primary back Marquise Williams, as well as newcomer Mitch Trubisky.
“It’s kind of crazy, because that’s something you always dreamed of doing when you’re little, and now it’s about to be here,” Coker said. “I have a great feeling, but you have to just keep working hard and get better every day, knowing that time is going to come.”
The first order of business is getting in the huddle. The last time he took an in-game snap was as a senior at Flowery Branch in 2011, when he led the Falcons to an 11-2 record and a spot in the Class AAAA state quarterfinals.
He tallied 2,809 yards and 31 touchdowns that season, with a few late-game heroics along the way. In the first round of the state playoffs against Johns Creek, he lobbed a successful Hail Mary attempt into the end zone as time expired to steal a 41-38 win and punch Flowery Branch’s ticket to the second round.
He was an East Carolina commit at the time, but switched to North Carolina two months later without even visiting the school. He says Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora’s similarity to then-Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw served as a motivator behind the change of decision.
“Coach Fedora is fiery — he’ll get after you,” Coker said. “Same with Coach Shaw, but you know he loves you. At the end of the day that’s a great feeling — knowing that your coach truly cares about you. That’s how both of them are.
“The only difference is that I never saw Coach Shaw drink energy drinks, and Coach Fedora drinks like five a day.”
The excitement continues to mount for Coker and his North Carolina teammates as the 2013 season approaches. The Tar Heels expect to contend for an ACC title this year after quietly going 8-4 in 2012.
They finished tied with Georgia Tech and Miami for the Coastal Division lead, but a postseason ban stemming from NCAA violations discovered in 2010 prevented them from playing in the conference championship game. Miami was also suspended for similar infractions, opening the door for the Yellow Jackets to play for the title.
The bans have been lifted this season, and Coker says North Carolina could surprise the ACC and contend for a championship.
“This year, I think we can contend for it for sure,” he said. “We lost a few huge players, but we still have guys here that will replace them, and this whole summer we’ve been working real hard.”
Off the field, Coker remains undecided on a major, but is currently taking classes in the business track.
His father is the owner of Coker Equipment Co., a hardware and construction store located on Industrial Boulevard. He watched the business develop as he grew up, and has interest in pursuing his own entrepreneurial goals in the future.
Coker’s classroom experience after a year at North Carolina has him confident to pursue such goals. He’s currently in Chapel Hill for a pair of summer sessions.
“I can’t explain how nice it is — (there’s) a lot of good stuff going for it,” he said. “Classes are hard, but we’re pushed to do good and they give us a lot of time to study.”