As Maryland looks for next QB, UNC transfer Caleb Henderson shows he's got the fire

On the Saturdays that the Maryland football team played on the road last season, Caleb Henderson would head home to Northern Virginia to hang out with his family and work out — very late — with his father Eric, a former college lineman who is now the coach at Hayfield High.

"I'd unlock the gym at 1 in the morning and we'd work to 3," Eric Henderson said Thursday. "He's the hardest-working kid I've ever been around. I'm not just crowing as a dad. All he did over spring break was lift weights, throw and run. He didn't go down to Cabo, he didn't do anything crazy. He's focused. He's locked in."

After transferring last summer from North Carolina, where he redshirted as a freshman and was the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart as a sophomore, the younger Henderson has been running mostly with Maryland's No. 1 offense since spring practice began this month.

Henderson, a four-star prospect out of Lake Braddock High (Va.), has a chance to start for the first time in his college career after playing behind Marquise Williams, a two-time second-team all-ACC player, and later Mitch Trubisky, who many expect to be the top quarterback taken in this year's NFL draft.

"I definitely think this is a great opportunity for me to play, and also I think it's awesome because I got to learn from those two quarterbacks," Henderson said after practice Thursday. "I think coming here was definitely a great opportunity for me to come play and show everyone what I can do."

Said Eric Henderson, "There's no shame in waiting your turn behind those guys. I think at North Carolina there was a philosophy that everyone competes for each spot in the pecking order. … He understands how to compete. I also think by watching Mitch and Marquise, he understands what good quarterbacking is."

Not that the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Henderson will be handed the job by second-year coach DJ Durkin and offensive coordinator Walt Bell. Durkin said before practice Thursday that he is still splitting reps between Henderson and two rising sophomores, Tyrrell Pigrome and Max Bortenschlager, each of whom started one game last season playing behind Perry Hills.

There's also the much-anticipated arrival this summer of four-star prospect Kasim Hill of St. John's College High.

"We have great quarterbacks here already," Henderson said. "Pig's doing a great job, Max was doing a great job today. Ryan [Brand, an early enrollee who played in junior college] is getting the offense down. We have a bunch of guys competing for the the job in the [quarterback] room and then we've got Kasim coming in."

While Durkin has said and many expect Hill will get an opportunity to win the job as Maryland's starting quarterback for the season opener at Texas on Sept. 2, Henderson understands what might be in store once he gets on campus this summer. Hill attended practice Thursday.

"It's going to be hard for him," Henderson said. "It's college football. I remember my freshman [year], I was a highly recruited kid coming out of high school. I went to UNC and they told me I'd have a chance to compete. Little did I know that Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky were there.

"I think he's going to have some adjusting to do. He'll be competition. He's a good quarterback. Honestly, if I'm the best player I'm going to play. If somebody else is the best player, they're going to play. At the end of the day, it's the guy who's going to help the team win that's going to play."

Henderson will have the experience of running an offense that was very similar to the one used by North Carolina, where Bell was an offensive assistant during Henderson's redshirt season before moving on to Arkansas State as offensive coordinator.

Eric Henderson also ran a similar offense when he was the head coach at West Potomac High, where Caleb started as a sophomore before the family moved into the Lake Braddock school district. The elder Henderson was the school's dean of students and the football team's offensive coordinator during his son's junior and senior seasons.

"High school was similar; it wasn't anything like this," Caleb Henderson said. "If the first guy wasn't open, I'd take off and run because I was bigger and more athletic than most people in high school. Now I can't do that. I've got to be smart and work through my progressions and do what I'm taught."

Durkin said he has liked what he has seen from Henderson through the team's first five practices.

"I love his competitiveness," Durkin said Thursday. "He's a fiery guy, he's into it, he's high energy. He's really talented. He can really run the ball as well as throw it. He's got a strong arm. He's got a big, thick body who can run really well. He's a good athlete. All those things in terms of talent he checks all the boxes."

Said Henderson, "Being my size and kind of what I am, it definitely helps me be deceptively athletic. People don't think I can run as fast as I can but I like to think I'm pretty athletic."

After Henderson announced he was transferring home due to a medical emergency involving his mother, Stacey, there were reports that the timing of the move was suspect, coming days after he lost the competition for the No. 2 job behind Trubisky.

At the time, Henderson tweeted that it had nothing to do with football.

Eric Henderson said Thursday that it was "a private family matter relating to a medical situation," adding, "It was too difficult on Caleb being four hours away. He felt, we felt, that it was in his best interest to get closer to the family. Caleb was under the assumption that he was the No. 2 guy at North Carolina."

Now he has the chance to be the No. 1 guy at Maryland.

If that happens, Henderson will think back to those Saturday nights and early Sunday mornings last fall when the Terps were out of town and he was busy trying to improve.

"I thought it helped me tremendously, just because I really didn't have to focus on the game, I could just focus on little things about me and I could be selfish right then," Henderson said. "Whereas now on Fridays and Saturdays I've got to worry about the team and being successful for the team. But those Saturday night were awesome."

The Terps are hoping that's still the case for Henderson come this fall.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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