Eye black stained from the tears, screaming from frustration more so than pain, Perry Hills sped through the seven stages of grief in minutes. He wanted trainers to tape and brace his injured knee, not yet puffy from the wayward block leveled by a North Carolina State linebacker, so he could return for Saturday’s second half.
Sitting on a training table deep in Gossett Field House, still unable to walk, Hills then insisted that someone help him to the sideline, so he could at least watch the Maryland Terrapins play. The bargaining stage. Yet each escape attempt was met with even greater resistance from the team doctors.
They strapped bags of ice to Hills’s left knee, mandating that he immediately begin treatment on what an MRI exam on Monday confirmed was a torn anterior cruciate ligament that will keep him out for the season.
Hills finally relented, and lay back watching on a nearby television with a one-second delay, so he heard the heartbreaking hush of the Byrd Stadium crowd even before seeing Brad Craddock’s 33-yard field goal attempt with two seconds remaining whack the left upright in a 20-18 loss.
Lori Hills watched her son crumple to the ground from the stands, and thought he got the wind knocked out of him, just like he did at West Virginia three weeks ago. At worst, she thought, Perry had suffered an ankle injury. Don’t panic, she told herself, even when Perry remained motionless on the turf, his loose helmet rolling across the field. Then a cart drove out to the Wolfpack 40-yard line, and trainers hoisted her son into the bed, speeding off as the crowd applauded in sympathy.
Doctors feared his meniscus had folded upon itself. “There were 20 things that could have been wrong with the knee,” Lori Hills said in a phone interview Monday evening. “Turns out there are two minor things, the best of a horrible situation.”
True to form, Hills begged for no surgery. He wanted to return this season. “My high school wrestling coach doesn’t have an ACL,” Perry Hills said at the hospital. “[Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver] Hines Ward doesn’t. Why do I need one?”
Doctors convinced him otherwise, preaching long term interest. Hills will have his ACL repaired in surgery, likely scheduled for early November.
“I am very disappointed for Perry,” Coach Randy Edsall said in a statement. “I was proud of the way he stepped in this season and led our team. Perry is a great competitor and I know how strongly his teammates feel about him. We will do everything we can to support him through the rehab process.”
Terps quarterbacks have been a painful study in crushing injuries. Hills only became Maryland’s starting quarterback because C.J. Brown tore his ACL during a non-contact drill this past preseason. Once Hills suffered a similar fate, Brown offered advice to Hills’s mother. When she asked how Perry should perform mundane tasks, like doing laundry, Brown cracked, “Get a girlfriend.”
“He told me how he went through the process,” Lori Hills said. “He explained that it’s going to feel great, even with the bumping and bruising you’ll have. But you have to remind yourself, you can’t overdo it. Keep the brace on, and do yourself a favor by not letting it fool you.”
Just the third freshman starting quarterback in Terps history, Hills had thrown for 1,336 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions in seven starts, including earning ACC rookie of the week honors for his performance against Temple.
Since the injury, he’s barely slowed down. After returning from the MRI appointment, he sped across campus, refusing to be late for mandatory team study hall. He had a term paper to complete.
Injuries are uncharted waters for the high school wrestler who once went to the state tournament with a broken finger. Part of him still believed a comeback was possible, until his mother jolted him from denial to acceptance. She gave him two choices: curl up and cry, or focus on healing. Anger won’t cure your leg, she said. The other option will.
“I think it’s going to motivate him to being out there with passion and because he loves it, and not feel the pressure.” Lori Hills said. “If you lose something you love, and now you love it even more, you want to be out there more than anything.”