College Park — As much as first-year Maryland football coach Mike Locksley’s life has changed since being hired in early December, the life of his team’s starting quarterback has changed a lot more.
While Locksley was going back to a place where he had worked twice previously for a total of 11 seasons, Josh Jackson was starting fresh after announcing in February that he would transfer from Virginia Tech for his last two years of college.
It meant a new school, new team and new teammates, even new terminology when it comes to calling plays for the 6-foot-2, 218-pound redshirt junior.
Nearly four months since he arrived after graduating in Blacksburg, Jackson is finally starting to get comfortable with his surroundings going into Maryland’s season opener Saturday against Howard.
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“It’s a brand new offense. I didn’t have spring ball,” Jackson said Tuesday. “Every time I was doing something, it was for the first time with these guys. … It definitely took some time. It still feels like I need to get better and get more comfortable because it’s still all new. I think it’s all slowing down and hopefully it keeps getting better.”
Jackson said that Locksley brought him and fellow redshirt junior Tyrrell Pigrome into the coach’s office Sunday to tell them that Jackson had won the job after a more competitive battle that many, Locksley included, expected.
In the end, Jackson said that the uncertainty as to who would get the job helped the team strengthen a position that has been problematic since C.J. Brown graduated after helping lead the Terps to winning seasons in 2013 and 2014.
“I think it was a very good competition between all of us,” Jackson said. “We all competed, we all got better and I’m very happy for how it worked out. I definitely wouldn’t have wanted for him to just hand me the job. I don’t think that’s fair to anybody on the team.”
Said Locksley: “It was a little closer than I even expected going into it. And I was glad to see that. Piggy is a competitive guy that didn’t just give the job up. He really fought hard. It was a close battle. We feel we can win with both Josh and Piggy.”
Jackson acknowledged that being considered one of Maryland’s leaders is different than it was for him at Virginia Tech, since he was elected a team captain going into his redshirt sophomore year by the Hokies. (The Terps will have game captains this season and then vote on team captains after the season is over.)
“It’s definitely new being a leader going into a new team,” Jackson said. “It’s difficult. You’ve got to earn the trust of your teammates and then from there you can try to lead them. At Tech, those guys knew me and I knew them. I knew how to lead them. This is a little bit different. It’s a whole new group of guys, but I’d say I’ve done a decent job of being a leader.”
Redshirt sophomore running back Anthony McFarland Jr. is not ready to proclaim Jackson a savior for a team looking for its first winning season in five years, but he has been impressed with his new starting quarterback.
“I would have to definitely wait for the season and see that in game play, but from practice, Josh has been working hard and he’s making everybody around him better, just like everybody else in the [quarterback[ room,” McFarland said Tuesday. “Josh is a good leader, he’s a smart quarterback. I know he’s going to win a lot of big games for us.”
Previously uncomfortable comparing the group of quarterbacks on the roster — which also includes former four-star prospect Lance LeGendre, a true freshman, as well as redshirt freshman Tyler DeSue and injured redshirt junior Max Bortenschlager — Locksley sees it differently now.
“I feel real comfortable with where the quarterback room is as a whole, probably better than any other time that I’ve been at Maryland, the depth that we’ve created,” Locksley said.
Though Locksley doesn’t plan on any sort of platoon system for his quarterbacks — “Josh is our starter and it’s not a deal where he has to look over his shoulder,” the coach said — Pigrome still factors into his offensive game plan depending on the opponent.
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“As I’ve always done, you utilize your playmakers and Piggy is a guy we feel can be a playmaker for us in our system,” Locksley said. “We’ll find a role [for Pigrome]. Our goal is to get our best playmakers the ball. If Piggy is one of the five playmakers in our offensive system that week when we start game planning, we’ll use him like we’ll use anyone else.”
The son of a longtime college football assistant coach — Fred Jackson was an assistant under four different coaches over 23 years at Michigan ― Jackson understands that being given the starting job for the opener doesn’t guarantee any permanency with the position.
“They believe in me, so that’s nice, but that still doesn’t mean I can’t get pulled,” Jackson said. “You’ve got to play well. You’ve got to make the right decisions. You’ve got to take care of the ball. That’s nice to hear, but at the end of the day, that’s not too much on my mind.”
As he stated throughout the summer, Locksley said that the decision was based largely on what Jackson and Pigrome did on the practice field in preseason camp and not what both quarterbacks had done before. In that regard, though, Jackson seemed to have a big advantage.
Jackson went 11-5 as a starter for the Hokies before breaking his leg in the third game last season. Pigrome has started four games, with the only victory coming in the 2017 opener at then-No. 23 Texas, when he tore his ACL in the second half of a 51-41 upset win for the Terps.
“His history at V-Tech didn’t play into it at all because we had some guys in our program that have won some big games for us,” Locksley said. “I know Piggy has taken part in winning some big games and has done good things. We evaluated them based on how they could operate in our system.”
Locksley conceded that Jackson’s experience factored into how the competition ultimately played out.
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“The benefit that Josh had is obviously that he had a lot of the game experience from his time at Virginia Tech, which I think he was able to lean on in the competition,” Locksley said.
Jackson, who threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns (to nine interceptions) as a redshirt freshman two years ago, is hesitant to compare the offense Locksley brought with him from Alabama with the one the Hokies employed during his three years at Virginia Tech.
"I would just say, not saying one’s better or the other, I don’t run the ball as much, which I don’t have a problem with,” Jackson said. “That’s kind of the only difference. Maybe a little difference with the RPOs [run-pass options]. A little with the passing game. It was a little easier than I thought it would be.”
Jackson said that he didn’t understand the kind of talent surrounding him until he watched a few practices in spring, and wasn’t aware of the recent history of Maryland quarterbacks until a team trainer told him about one disturbing trend while he was applying ice one day this summer.
“I didn’t know anything about the struggles, but someone eventually informed me about the injuries,” Jackson said with a slight laugh. “That’s a little disheartening you could say. … It wasn’t in the official visit transcript or whatever. I’m not trying to focus on the past. I’m just trying to be the best player I can right now.”
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