On the team’s plane ride back to Maryland after the Terps beat then-No. 23 Texas in last year’s season opener in Austin, Tyrrell Pigrome tried to fight through the pain in his right knee to sleep. Even awake, his memory of how he got hurt was foggy.
At one point, Pigrome awakened from a short nap to find Sarah Durkin, the wife of football coach DJ Durkin, checking up to see how the injured sophomore quarterback was feeling. Medication and ice had dulled the pain in his aching right knee.
“She asked me, ‘Do you know how it happened?’ ” Pigrome recalled recently, six months into his rehabilitation. “I said, ‘Yeah I made one guy miss and I was about to make another guy miss and I got hit from the back.’ She was like, ‘You didn’t get hit from the back.’ When I saw it on tape, I just planted.”
That’s when Pigrome believed the injury was worse than he suspected. What he thought was a hyperextension similar to what he suffered to both knees in high school in Alabama turned out to be a season-ending torn ACL.
“When I first got the news, it was really hard. Of course I shed tears,” Pigrome said, sitting in the auditorium at the Gossett Team House. “Once [orthopedic surgeon Craig Bennett, the Terps’ longtime doctor,] told me I would be the same, it wasn't an injury he hadn’t seen before, it wasn’t too bad. I just starting getting ready for the surgery.”
Two days after surgery, Pigrome began his rehabilitation. It was the morning of the home opener against Towson. Freshman Kasim Hill, who had replaced Pigrome in the fourth quarter against the the Longhorns and helped secure a 51-41 win, led the Terps to a 63-17 rout of the Tigers.
The following week, Pigrome was sitting in the press box at Maryland Stadium with then-offensive coordinator Walt Bell. When Hill went down early in the game against Central Florida after getting sandwiched by two defenders, Pigrome thought Hill would pop right up.
“I thought it was a hard hit, don't get me wrong, but I thought he'd just had the wind knocked out of him,” Pigrome said. “When I saw pictures of it and saw how his leg was, I thought, ‘Dang.' He told one [Maryland] player he couldn’t even move, he couldn’t even roll over.”
Hill’s season ended that day the same way Pigrome’s had a couple of weeks before. Hill suffered a torn ACL in his right knee in what turned into a 38-10 defeat to a Central Florida team that would finish undefeated.
Hlll’s reaction was more immediate than Pigrome’s. After being helped off the field and into the privacy of the team’s medical tent on the sideline, Hill broke down as Bennett tried to console him.
“I knew pretty much on the field that it was something bad,” Hill said. “I didn’t necessarily know what it was, but I knew it was something bad. All the emotion just came out at that time. I was disappointed.”
In reality, Maryland’s 2017 season ended that day as well.
Despite Maryland improving to 3-1 the next week at Minnesota, winning behind third-string sophomore Max Bortenschlager, the absence of the team’s top two quarterbacks eventually led to the Terps losing seven of their last eight games.
As Maryland opens spring practice Monday, Bortenschlager will be back taking snaps with the first team. Ryan Brand, a walk-on who started against Michigan, quietly left the program two months ago. Caleb Henderson, who played sparingly after transferring from North Carolina, remains with the team in an administrative role.
The only other healthy quarterbacks this spring will be true freshman Tyler DeSue, one of the team’s early enrollees, and sophomore walk-on Legend Brumbaugh, the son of co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Brumbaugh.
Pigrome and Hill will be limited to some individual drills during the five-week spring camp that culminates with the Red-White Game on April 14, and both are expected to be back for preseason practice this summer.
“They’re doing great,” Maryland’s head trainer, Wes Robinson, said. “They work really hard. They push the other injured guys, but also cross over to do the more difficult thing, which is to lead from the side. It is a lot easier to be working and sweating and bleeding with the guy next to you and say, ‘Let’s go,’ and pick that guy up. It’s a lot harder to do from a distance.”
Robinson, who has been at Maryland for 12 years, has unfortunately become an expert in the recovery of Terps quarterbacks from ACL tears. When second-year coach Randy Edsall used five quarterbacks during the 2012 season, it was because three had torn an ACL.
“They’re two special kids and leaders for our team, so it was a challenge the whole team faced,” Robinson said of Pigrome and Hill. “Honestly, I think the team responded really well, as best they could, but it was certainly a challenge.”
While saying that helping every player back from an injury is equally important in terms of their treatment, Robinson acknowledged the rehab of a quarterback is different “because it’s often difficult to replace.”
The goal for both Pigrome and Hill is to be healthy enough to be in the starting lineup for the season opener, fittingly in the rematch against Texas on Sept. 1 at FedEx Field in Landover. Pigrome wants to get a chance to finish what he started at Texas. Hill wants to continue his career as a starter.
Both quarterbacks showed plenty of promise over the course of those nine combined quarters they played.
Pigrome, who started one game as a freshman in 2016, overcame an early pick-six against the Longhorns to help the Terps build a 27-7 lead, completing nine of 12 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 64 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries before getting hurt.
After throwing a 40-yard pass to DJ Moore on third-and-19 to set up his own 3-yard touchdown run to stretch Maryland’s lead to 44-34, Hill wound up 3-for-3 for 44 yards against Texas. He followed by going 13-for-16 for 163 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing five times for 41 yards against Towson.
Then came the injury against Central Florida.
Asked how tough it was to watch the remaining games — either on a television in Durkin’s office with a few other injured teammates or in their dorm room when the team was on the road — Hill said: “It was really good to be around the guys during the season. I think that helped a lot through the process.”
He said it was also good to be around his younger sister, Kaylah, who has Down syndrome.
“It definitely put things in perspective,” Hill said. “I’m 20 minutes from home, so I was seeing them a lot during that whole process. Just being around my sister, you’d never know she has Down syndrome.
“She’s the life of every single event she’s at. Just seeing her like that, I knew I didn’t need to be down, that it would be over in a short amount of time and just go through the process. … She would ask me every day how my knee’s doing, still to this day.”
Hill said going through rehab is not any harder than getting ready for the season.
“It’s just a different type of work that you have to do,” he said. “I’m the type of person that works hard at whatever I do, and that’s always going to carry with me. It’s just different exercises, going about getting ready for the season in a different way this year.”
Hill has watched the tape of the play on which he was injured “a few times” and can now look through the gruesome way he was hit — with one player hitting him in the chest and the other at the knee — to understand what Bell had asked him not to do.
Asked whether he might have some mental hurdles to overcome after his first significant injury, Hill said: “I don’t think there will be a mental part of it. If I keep that in my mind, I’m going to play timid and scared. I definitely don’t want that. Go out there and treat it like I did before.”
Pigrome said he learned from watching with Bell, who left after the season for a similar position at Florida State.
“You see everything better. The game looked way slower from up there,” Pigrome said. “You can learn more, to see what other teams are doing. You can see how your team is going to be before the first snap. Are they prepared? Did they believe [they could win]?”
Hill said he and Pigrome have become even closer after they suffered the same injury.
“It’s just been good, going through the same things that you are, going through the same exercises,” Hill said.