To say Perry Hills has had an up-and-down career at Maryland is a bit of an understatement.
He enrolled expecting to back up C.J. Brown at quarterback in 2012 but was immediately thrust into the starting job because of injury before suffering a season-ending injury himself. He toted the clipboard as the backup in 2013 and entered last season as the third-string quarterback.
Hills was expected by outsiders to be a backup again this fall but won the starting job in preseason camp. Less than two games into the season, though, he was benched and tumbled all the way back down to third on the depth chart.
But after last weekend's performance at No. 1 Ohio State in which he rushed for a Maryland quarterback-record 170 yards in defeat, Hills is once again the Terps' starting quarterback going forward under interim coach Mike Locksley.
"It's been a little bit of a journey," Hills said Wednesday. "But whenever I wasn't the guy, coaches told me don't check out, just stay in your playbook, stay mentally prepared. That's something I did, and if and when I got an opportunity again, I said to myself I wasn't going to blow it."
Against the Buckeyes, Hills carried the ball 25 times for those 170 yards and two touchdowns. With time running down in the first half, he broke a 75-yard run through the heart of the Ohio State defense to set up a score, part of a 17-point swing across halftime after a missed field goal. His success was limited through the air, going 10 of 27 passing for 133 yards with one touchdown and two second-half interceptions. The Ohio State defensive line put constant pressure on him, finishing with four sacks.
But Hills still provided a lift for a team that had scored six points total in its previous two games. He's known for his intangibles, and he seemed to be trying to will the Terps to a win at times, fighting for extra yards and taking big hits.
"I'm feeling better now," Hills said. "There was the soreness. I'll heal."
"He's still a little beat up," Locksley said. "He took some shots in that game but he came out [Wednesday], did what he normally does. I think Perry's excited with the opportunity that he's been given or that he's earned and we're hoping to build on the performance he had Saturday versus Ohio State."
Perhaps most importantly, Hills kept the Maryland defense off the field and gave it a chance to rest against a talented Ohio State offense. Losses to West Virginia and Michigan were filled with three-and-outs and the defense shuttling on and off the field almost immediately. Hills helped Maryland extend drives, and the Terps' 20 first downs were nearly as many as the 21 they recorded in their previous two games.
"It was just a good thing to see Perry out there doing his thing," middle linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. said after the Ohio State game. "He might have said he messed up a couple times, but it definitely helped us out a little more, staying off the field, just things like that."
At the news conference introducing him as Maryland's interim coach Sunday, Locksley said the team went into its week of preparation for Ohio State with Hills installed as the starter so the coaching staff could tailor a game plan to his strengths and so that Hills wouldn't have to keep looking over his shoulder at the competition.
The offense's performance against Ohio State seems to be an indication of what Maryland will do moving forward. And it'll center around a quarterback who's taken his share of trips up and down the depth chart.
"Because of the skill set that Perry brings to the program and to the offense, we have to build it around that," Locksley said Sunday. "What you saw earlier in the year was based off of the type of quarterback that was playing with Caleb Rowe, more of a pro-style, drop-back guy. Once we made the decision to go with Perry, Perry's skill set enabled us to do some things offensively that we displayed yesterday and we're hoping to be able to build on."