COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- When Maryland quarterback Caleb Henderson chose to leave North Carolina after two years in Chapel Hill, N.C., and transfer to Maryland, it represented a return to the familiar for the Burke, Va., native. Not only was the former Lake Braddock High star, who was the 13th-rated signal caller in the 2014 class per Scout.com, coming back to the DMV, but he was reuniting with the offensive assistant who recruited him down to Chapel Hill in the first place: Walt Bell.
Now, Henderson and Bell never connected at UNC, because the latter bolted for the offensive coordinator’s job at Arkansas State before the 2015 campaign, but the quarterback is certainly pleased to be under the UMD play caller’s watch two years later.
“It’s awesome. I knew Coach Bell from UNC, and he’s a great coach,” said Henderson, who transferred to College Park last August and has two years of eligibility remaining. “He’s night and day from my coach at UNC. My coach at UNC was very quiet and would pull you aside and talk to you. Coach Bell is right in your face. He’s the first one to high five you after you throw a touchdown, and he’s the first one to curse you up and down the field when you do something wrong. I appreciate that, and I respond to that kind of coaching.
“And I think [the offense] fits me great. I ran something very similar in high school, and it’s pretty much the same offense as UNC’s. It’s different terminology and a little different formations and motions, but besides that it’s pretty much the same stuff.”
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior Henderson’s grasp of Bell’s fast-paced spread, coupled with his experience and inherent talent, figures to give him a leg up in the quarterback competition. The former Army All-American and All-Met Player of the Year is currently battling sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome, sophomore Max Bortenschlager and eventually incoming freshman Kasim Hill for the lead role. The former two second-years each saw limited action in 2016, but didn’t exactly lay claim to the spot under center.
D.J. Durkin refused to tip his hand on which of the candidates had stood out so far during spring practice, but the headman is impressed with Henderson’s skill-set.
“I love his competitiveness. He’s a fiery guy, he’s into it and he’s competitive. And he’s really talented. Caleb can really run the ball as well as throw,” Durkin said. “He has a strong arm, and he’s a big, thick body who runs well. He’s a good athlete. All those things, in terms of talent, he checks all the boxes. He has familiarity with a similar scheme from where he came from, so that helps him too.”
During the practice March 30, Henderson showed off his arm on a couple longl completions, while spraying the ball around to a variety of options in the intermediate area. He wasn’t always on-point, and it’s clear he’ll have to keep working on his reads and timing, but Henderson’s talent and leadership are evident.
“Things are going well. We put in a couple new plays I need to brush up on a little bit, but the first four practices and even [March 30] I thought I did pretty well. … I think after a month I got the terminology down,” Henderson said. “But I bring a strong arm, and mobility too for being 230 pounds, which I think is a pretty big deal this day and age where everyone needs to be mobile. But there’s always something to learn and things to get better at.”
Slot receiver Jacquille Veii has been one of Henderson’s main targets thus far during the spring. The two already have a mutual respect for one another, forming a chemistry of sorts.
“Caleb’s a great leader, and he’s got that fire to him,” Veii said. “He wants to win and compete, and I love that about a quarterback.”
Henderson, for his part, is keeping an even keel in this early race for the No. 1 gig. He’s confident in his abilities and believes he’s seamlessly transitioning after watching the Maryland offense last year, but made sure to note the other quarterbacks’ strengths as well.
“We have great quarterbacks here already. Pig is doing a great job, Max was doing a great job [March 30], Ryan [Brand] is getting the offense down, and then we have Kasim coming in,” Henderson said. “And, honestly, if I’m the best player, I’m going to play. If someone else is the best player, they’re going to play. It’s whoever gives the team the best chance to win.”
Of course, the last time Henderson was in a quarterback competition, he didn’t fare so well. He redshirted his first year at North Carolina, but as a redshirt freshman Henderson had a chance to earn at least the No. 2 job. Instead, Texas native and touted freshman Nate Elliott beat him out as Henderson fell to No. 3 on the depth chart. Henderson ended up appearing in three games, throwing just one pass and adding in five rush attempts.
“At UNC I had two guys that were flat-out better than me. I lost some confidence,” said Henderson, who mentioned he learned plenty from former UMD quarterback Perry Hills last season. “But playing behind Marquise Williams, who is going to the NFL, and Mitch Trubisky, who’s going to be the No. 1 quarterback coming out next year, I definitely learned a lot. I was texting Mitch the other day; he’s an awesome guy and I consider him one of my brothers. I was telling him how much I’ve learned from him and asking him how he’s doing. And Marquise, I learned how to throw and really put touch on balls. He was a great teacher. But now I have this opportunity here [at Maryland], and hopefully I can take advantage of it.”
Henderson chose to leave UNC a few months after the 2015 campaign, although the dual-threat insists the decision had as much to do with a family matter and a desire to return home than anything playing-time related.
“I loved UNC, but I just needed to come here for my family and it was a better opportunity to play,” Henderson said. “I’ve made a lot of great friends here. I knew [tight end] Avery Edwards from UNC, I had the Coach Bell connection, and it’s awesome being 40 minutes from home. I live right over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, and I can go home for dinner.”
With a foothold in College Park and his parents, Stacy and Eric, less than an hour away, Henderson is hoping to revive his college career and show off in front of the home crowd once again. First, though, he has to establish himself as Maryland’s starter, with spring ball his initial chance to leave an impression before fall camp.
“It’s an awesome opportunity, I love the school, I love the guys and I love the coaches,” Henderson said. “It’s a great chance for me to come in and play.”