Perry Hills Emerges from the Shadows

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Homecoming is a time for reunions, seeing old faces, seeing new faces. And the Terps certainly rolled one out on Oct. 18 in reserve quarterback Perry Hills, who hadn't seen the field in two years after starting as a true freshman in 2012 during the "Year of the Quarterback Injury" blight at College Park.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Homecoming is a time for reunions, seeing old faces, seeing new faces.

And the Terps certainly rolled one out on Oct. 18 in reserve quarterback Perry Hills, who hadn't seen the field in two years after starting as a true freshman in 2012 during the "Year of the Quarterback Injury" blight at College Park.

That year, Hills, who arrived as a freshman in the same class as junior Caleb Rowe, was the more prepared mentally of the rookies to come in and run the Terps show when starter C.J. Brown went down to a knee injury. While Rowe had the bigger, more accurate arm, Hills could get the Terps into their offense better than his classmate. Before the season was out, Hills would tear his knee and be lost, same for Rowe, converted receiver Devin Burns would break his foot, and the last man standing was converted freshman linebacker Shawn Petty, who has since left the program.

But that baptism of fire in 2012, when Hills had his moments tossing seven touchdown passes and showing some ability in the zone-read as well, laid some of the groundwork for his improbable return to the field Saturday in Maryland's key, 38-31 Big Ten home win over Iowa.

With Rowe going down Tuesday morning in practice to a non-contact knee injury (he tore his left ACL, the same one he tore also non-contact as a rookie in 2012 at Boston College), Hills, who used a redshirt year as a sophomore in 2013, was elevated on Wednesday at practice to No. 2 behind Brown.

And the Terps starter Brown, already having come off two surgeries as a Terp, a concussion last season at FSU that forced him out of games, and finally a wrist injury last month at Indiana that has him wearing a cast on his non-throwing wrist, took a late hit to the back Saturday versus Iowa that knocked him out of the game early in the third quarter with Maryland clinging to a 17-14 lead.

In came Hills, a former three-star signee out of Pittsburgh, Pa., who at times the last two years wondered if he would ever get a shot again, or if UMD was still the right place for him, and led Maryland to its biggest offensive play of the game against Iowa.

"I'm rusty. But I should have prepared better just through the season taking more mental reps, even though I wasn't getting reps on the field," Hills said afterwards. "But it has been a while, but it's like riding your bicycle, and once you knock that rust off everything starts to slow down for you."

Hills has always been a scrapper, a former state wrestling champ, but a quarterback who is probably never going to win any glamour contests. He may have lost a step in the run game since the blown-out knee two years ago, while he can still throw a few wobblers. That didn't matter Saturday with Brown hunched over on the sidelines in pain, later to go to the locker room, his status unknown for the rest of the afternoon. Hills, after a rough series to start, out of his end zone and dealing with a bad snap on third down before a three-and-out, settled in on his third series late in the third quarter.

He hit freshman wide-out Juwann Winfree for 8 yards on first down at the Maryland 8 after a Maryland special teams penalty buried the Terps deep, then kept the ball for a 12-yard rush. Two plays later, he maybe threw the best ball of the day when he hit Stefon Diggs on a sharp out route for 15 yards up the right sideline, Diggs high-pointing the ball and coming down with like Terps fans want to see more of. Then, on a set double screen to the right side, Hills tossed the ball to Diggs, who got two big blocks from Marcus Leak and Silvano Altamirano to break loose 53 yards for a score and a 24-14 Maryland led with 4:18 left in the third. Hills drove the Terps 92 yards on five plays in just 1:56. He would play two more series before Brown came back in the game.

"Stefon just made an amazing catch," Hills said of the 15-yarder to start the drive. "Once you have a guy like Stefon out there, you can pretty much throw the ball in his vicinity and he is going to come down with it. And then the touchdown catch, a little screen play to him, and he took it the distance. Having an explosive player out there, anyone would want that on their team."

Said Terps head man Randy Edsall of yet another relief man called out of the bullpen this season:

“I thought Perry went in and did the things that we needed to do from a standpoint to get us through that period of time to get C.J. back. He didn’t turn the ball over, we got a touchdown. There’s no doubt that he was rusty. When you stand back there in practice and don’t get any reps in because you can only work two guys and he does individual, it’s tough. I commend him for going in there and doing what he did and not turning the ball over and continuing to give us an opportunity to win the ballgame, and that’s what he did.”

Hills said he wasn't sure how many series he would get, but was trying to stay mentally prepared throughout.

"It's difficult," he said of the practice week preparing on the fly. "But the coaching staff, they did a great job trying to get me reps and everything, preparing me in the meeting room. So I give them a lot of props for that, but like I said, I have a lot of rust to knock off."

Hills said he drew on his play two years ago (in fact, it was nearly two years to the day, Oct. 13, 2012 versus Virginia, that he threw his last touchdown pass), on Saturday under duress. He said his main objective was to take care of the football, especially a few times buried in his own red zone.

"I definitely wasn't worried, I have been out there before, and as someone said it's not my first rodeo," Hills quipped. "The main thing Coach tells us every game is take care of the ball. That's gonna tell if we are going to win or lose, if we take care of the football."

Hills would finish the day 5-of-10 for 86 yards, one touchdown and no picks and no sacks. He also rushed three times for 15 yards. With the tenuous nature of the quarterback/health situation looming again, Hills will have to stay ready.

Said the starter Brown post-game of his new backup, now that Rowe is lost for the season:

"Perry was able to come in today and be successful," Brown said. "It's definitely a credit to him and the work he has put in. He has been there before, he has won games for us, and in that quarterback room we all have confidence in him, Coach Locks all the way up to Coach Edsall. I mean everyone. He did a great job."

Hills now has to adjust to another new role at College Park, one of relevancy again after almost being a forgotten man. At one point Saturday, new third-string quarterback Shane Cockerille was seen warming up on the sidelines, and the Terps have some sub packages for him in case, too.

"I've always been waiting for an opportunity as anyone would be," Hills said. "It was really tough on me from going from starting quarterback to redshirting and scout and everything....so that was really tough on me. But staying mentally into it was the biggest thing for me."

Hills said at times Saturday, on the downside, he was "over-thinking things." Next time he said he will settle down quicker. But the Diggs splash play was huge for him and the team's confidence, just like the Will Likely 'pick-six,' to break open the game in the Terps favor.

"I was going crazy the whole way down the field. First time being back out there and Stefon takes the ball, what 53 yards? Wonderful," Hills said.

On bouncing back after so much early adversity in games, not to mention all the injury adversity, Hills said he was "heartbroken" for Rowe going down earlier in the week since he was there before, himself. He thought the hit on Brown versus Iowa was a late one as well.

Hills has added 10 pounds and toned up his body from his freshman year, the last time the media met with him. Even in the spring it was a struggle for him, bouncing back and forth between third and fourth string at times with Cockerille.

"I was worried for his [Brown's] health, but then I had to get ready to go in," Hills said of the life as a backup, now one higher on the ladder.

And like every game, playing or not, Hills' parents were in the stands as they always are, and took him out to dinner post-game, he said. Seemed like 2012 all over again, for a brief moment on Saturday at Homecoming, as Hills was back in the fray.

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