COLLEGE PARK — During pregame warmups Saturday at Nebraska's Memorial Stadium, Maryland quarterback Perry Hills saw his counterpart for the Cornhuskers, Tommy Armstrong Jr., dressed in a sweatsuit, then watched as Armstrong took part only in the senior day ceremony.
Like Armstrong, who sat out Nebraska's 28-7 win with a hamstring injury suffered the previous week against Ohio State, Hills had the same vantage point from the opposite sideline. Out with a shoulder injury, Hills watched true freshman Max Bortenschlager make his first collegiate start for the Terps.
"I was kind of looking around, seeing if Armstrong was suiting up or not," Hills recalled Tuesday. "During warmups, I didn't see him. I was like, 'Man, what going on? It's got to be hard on his side... being a senior and not being able to play on senior day.' I was definitely able to put myself in his shoes there."
Hills, a fifth-year senior, hopes he doesn't stay in those shoes this week.
When Maryland honors Hills and its other 21 seniors Saturday in the team's regular-season finale against Rutgers, a player whose career began five years ago as the opening-day starter as a true freshman wants more than to just go on the field with his parents before the game.
Neither Hills nor first-year coach DJ Durkin said Tuesday whether the left shoulder injury he suffered two weeks ago against the Buckeyes and the right shoulder injury that has plagued him for most of the season have healed sufficiently enough for him to play against the Scarlet Knights.
Asked if sitting out against Nebraska helped him recover enough to be able to play, Hills said, "It's definitely given me a chance to heal up. But I'm just going to go throughout the week and let Coach Durkin make that decision, whenever that times comes."
If Hills can't play, Bortenschlager would likely make his second career start.
"Max has certainly put himself in a position if Perry isn't ready to go, he's the guy we feel can really function at a high level, move our offense," Durkin said of Bortenschlager, who completed 14 of 29 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown. "We can operate the run game as well as the pass game with him in there. We need to have that element about us to be successful."
Maryland (5-6 overall, 2-6 in the Big Ten) is hoping to break a four-game losing streak and become bowl eligible. Playing at home against Rutgers (2-9, 0-8), which has lost eight straight, seems a lot less daunting for a young quarterback than making a debut before nearly 90,000 fans in Lincoln.
"We're really pleased with how Max played last weekend, obviously a tough situation, on the road, a hostile environment, his first real game," Durkin said. "I thought he performed with poise. I know there are some things he would tell you he could do better, and we believe he could do better."
Recalling his own debut as a freshman, when he completed 16 of 24 passes for 145 yards but threw three interceptions as the Terps eked out a 7-6 win over William & Mary at home, Hills said, "I think he went out there and did really well. He didn't get flustered. He didn't go into a hole if he made a mistake. He just kept grinding, kept going. That's something you really like to see in a quarterback."
It took five years, and a change in coaches, for Hills to get to that point this season.
But after leading the Terps to a 4-0 start, Hills reinjured the right shoulder against Penn State after initially hurting it toward the end of a double-overtime win at Central Florida the previous game. Hills missed the second half of the 38-14 loss to the Nittany Lions, sat out a 31-10 home loss to Minnesota, led the team to its last victory, 28-17, over Michigan State and then was forced out of successive blowout defeats against Michigan (59-3) and Ohio State (62-3).
The left shoulder injury against the Buckeyes led to Hills expressing a little dark humor as he talked about having the shoulder treated during the game.
"Honestly I went in the locker room and I said, 'Man, God must not be wanting me to play or something,'" Hills said with a laugh Tuesday. "It was definitely a little heartwrenching, that happening. I was like, 'Anything that can go wrong has gone wrong.'"
Before the injuries, Hills was having his best statistical season.
Hills, who still leads the Big Ten in pass efficiency, has completed 66.7 percent of his passes, and his 10 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions is far better than the 17-20 ratio in his first three seasons combined.
Asked to assess his senior year, Hills can't get past the injuries.
"It's definitely been frustrating," he said. "Normally, like last year, I took a lot more hits and I didn't get injured. Even if years in the past, there was the one freak injury my freshman year, I was trying to cut back and got blindsided. It's been pretty frustrating. The coaches have done so much for me, it's really been a blessing, an honor just to go out there when I can and have fun with my teammates."
Durkin can only think what kind of season it would have been for Hills and the Terps had the quarterback not been banged up for most of it.
"His year would be way more reflective of the type of player, the type of young man he is," Durkin said. "And in many ways, our team and our season would be reflective of that. It's part of it. He doesn't look back with regret or make any bones about it, nor do we. I'm looking for Perry to improve this week and get himself healthy and hopefully be able to help his senior class, help his team go get a win."
Durkin said that Hills' contribution to the program goes far beyond his stat line.
Fellow redshirt senior linebacker Roman Braglio, who first saw Hills in action when both wrestled in high school and Hills, then at Pittsburgh's Central Catholic, pinned one of Braglio's McDonogh teammates during a tournament, said it's hard to envision Hills not playing Saturday.
"I know he's doing everything he can do to be out there Saturday," said Braglio, who met Hills on their official visit and has roomed with him for five years. "It means the world to him. If he's got to fight the trainers, he probably will. That's completely up to them, it's their call. They obviously don't want to make anything worse."
Many of those in the current senior class have been through a lot, given the record (15-21 the last three years, 19-29 in the four years Hills has played) and the change in coaches during and after last season. Hills might have endured more than anyone, since he has been here longer.
"It's been up and down," Braglio said. "I remember when he messed up his knee his freshman year, it was hard to look at. You could feel his pain. After that, he had to get confidence back in the knee, then he got buried [on the depth chart], a lot of emotions in that. He's the toughest kid I've ever met."