Even before he started ninth grade and his path as a prodigious quarterback recruit at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Northern Virginia, Caleb Henderson had earned a scholarship offer from Maryland. It was one of the first he collected near the end of his middle school years, when he was already beginning to fill out his 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame.
But as he grew into the eventual 2013 All-Met Player of the Year, Henderson also grew apart from the idea of playing in College Park. He instead signed with North Carolina and spent his first two years buried on the depth chart. Only last summer, near the end of his third fall camp with the Tar Heels, did Henderson revisit the idea of returning home to the school that had provided an early affirmation of his budding talent.
When he finally did transfer to Maryland last August, becoming one of the most highly touted quarterbacks to join the program in recent history, he knew there would be a price to pay. He would have to sit out the season and wait his turn. But this move made sense. Henderson wanted to be closer to his family. He wanted a chance to play in meaningful games for the first time since high school. And he wanted to feel comfortable working with Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell, a former North Carolina assistant who had once helped recruit Henderson to Chapel Hill.
It was Bell who was screaming at Henderson and the rest of Maryland’s offense after a drill during the team’s fifth spring practice on Thursday evening, irate with the unit’s inefficiency in gusty winds. He made the entire offense circle Henderson, a redshirt junior, and three other quarterbacks while they did up-downs after the defense got the best of them in live drills.
“He’s the first one to high-five you when you throw a touchdown, and he’s the first one to curse you up and down the field when you do something wrong,” Henderson said of Bell. “I respond to that kind of coaching.”
While it’s too early to determine the complexion of Maryland’s quarterback situation, Henderson at least provides a compelling option at a position that has been mired in mediocrity for much of the past decade. He will be pushed by the stable of talent around him, including rising sophomores Tyrrell Pigrome and Max Bortenschlager, both of whom started games for the Terrapins during last season’s 6-7 campaign.
And Henderson is fully aware that highly touted freshman quarterback Kasim Hill, a product of St. John’s College High School in the District, will make a case for immediate playing time once he arrives on campus this summer. Whoever earns the starting position that was held last season by graduating senior Perry Hills will inherit a deep and talented backfield, led by rising junior Ty Johnson, sophomore Lorenzo Harrison and incoming DeMatha blue chip recruit Anthony McFarland Jr.
Henderson has been running with the first-team offense for much of spring practice so far. He appears to be a natural fit for Bell’s up-tempo zone-running scheme — Henderson threw for 2,159 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushed for 964 yards and 18 more touchdowns during his senior season at Lake Braddock alone — and he has benefited from sitting out a year and polishing his game on the practice field and in the film room.
“He’s high energy and he’s really talented. I mean Caleb can really run the ball, as well as throw,” Maryland Coach DJ Durkin said. “He’s got a strong arm. He’s a big, thick body who runs really well. He’s a good athlete. All of those things, in terms of talent, he checks all the boxes.”
During his freshman season in Chapel Hill, Henderson learned under North Carolina quarterbacks Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky, the latter of whom is expected to be a top NFL draft pick later this spring. Henderson texted Trubisky earlier this week, thanking him for his mentorship over the previous two years.
Henderson has paid it forward, too. Since transferring, he has routinely made the 40-minute drive home to visit his parents in Northern Virginia. He has been able to spend more time with his father, Eric, who served as his offensive coordinator at Lake Braddock and is now the head coach at Hayfield. That allowed Caleb to mentor Hayfield quarterback Jacob Keeney to a stunning season earlier this fall.
Now Henderson is hoping his decision to find a fresh start in College Park will translate to a starting position later this fall. The transition has been difficult at times. On Thursday, he struggled as the offense tried to install several new plays and protections.
During a hurry-up 11-on-11 drill, he had to throw a ball in the dirt and mishandled a low snap. There were few opportunities to show his arm strength. But Henderson did show flashes of his athleticism on a number of runs, and he was the first player to burst through the line to celebrate with starting running back Ty Johnson on a touchdown run late in practice.
“I think coming here was a great opportunity for me to come play,” Henderson said, “and come show everyone what I can do.”
Notes: Rising senior linebacker Shane Cockerille is not practicing with the team. While he is still a part of the roster, Durkin said he will not rejoin team activities until he fulfills unspecified off-the-field responsibilities. … Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Quarvez Boulware has left the team and will transfer. Boulware, a four-star recruit out of Friendship Collegiate, appeared in six games last season.