The point when Maryland’s season opener was crumbling at Texas was the point when Kasim Hill came in and saved it. And while there are reasons to mourn the loss of starting quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome to a season-ending knee injury, that moment when Hill entered as Pigrome’s replacement — start of the fourth quarter, a three-touchdown lead whittled to three measly points — just might have shaped a team, and a season.
Hill is 19 years old. Before Saturday in Austin — where the denizens of Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium will learn you a thing or two about football, thank you very much — Hill had not only never played in a college football game; he had never as much as stood on the sideline. So when he entered, it was normal for the offensive linemen around him — knowing 88,396 sets of eyes fell squarely onto No. 11, the newbie — to inquire as to his state of mind.
“He pretty much came in and said, ‘Guys, this is a football game,’ ” Terrapins fullback Jake Funk said. “ ‘I’ve been doing this my whole life. We’ll be just fine.’ And he just went and did his thing.”
“I’m sure that’s him,” said Joe Casamento, Hill’s coach at St. John’s College High in the District. “He’s not out there trying to do something that’s not who he is. He’s not in there to win the Texas game. That’s not why he’s in there. He’s in there to operate the offense, to do his job. He understands who he is and what he is.”
Hill is, right now, the starting quarterback at Maryland — for this week against Towson, for later this month against Central Florida, for, if things go well, every week until the fall of 2020. There is tragedy and sorrow in the loss of Pigrome, the sophomore who won the job in camp and helped Maryland build its shocking lead against the Longhorns, and Coach DJ Durkin rightly lamented the injury when he announced it Tuesday.
The Terrapins, though, have no choice but to treat this as an opportunity. Hill could well have beaten Pigrome out for the starting job in camp; the battle was that close. That he gets it because of injury is academic. There aren’t people in the football offices in College Park, and there aren’t people who know Hill, who believe this task will overwhelm him. That moment in the Texas game, it’s just too big for a regular kid who had never so much as laced up the cleats on game day. Hill might not be regular.
“He was smiling when he went in the game,” Durkin said.
Now, let’s be honest. We’re a lot closer to Labor Day than we are to Halloween, and drawing conclusions about the college football season when the September calendar still reads in the single digits is folly. We know that, on Saturday, Maryland was better than Texas, and not many people expected that. But we don’t yet know who or what Texas is, and we don’t know how Maryland will respond to what is, without question, the biggest victory of Durkin’s brief tenure in College Park, and we don’t have a full picture of Hill, who — even with the moxie he showed in Austin — has still only thrown three college passes.
What we do know: He completed all three throws. Plus, add the following: that Hill was a consensus four-star recruit coming into Durkin’s program; that physically, at 6 feet 2 and 236 pounds, he looks the part; that every time he had the opportunity to watch a Maryland practice before he enrolled he did, studying the quarterbacks rather than idly passing the time; and that when he got into the Texas game, he calmly and maturely stared at a third and 19, with the game in danger, and completed a 40-yard pass that was followed, a play later, by his own scoring run.
This all helped Durkin evaluate everything about his program at the dawn of his second season: The coach thought his team was ready for a moment — for a series of moments — like it faced at Texas. Saturday confirmed it. He thought Hill, if he were needed, was ready for those same instances. Saturday confirmed it.
“I think it’s easy — when you watch physically, just look at his stature, how he runs, how he throws — [to say], ‘Okay, this guy’s a really talented football player,’ ” Durkin said. “But when you get to know him through the recruiting process, and know what he’s all about, then you really open your eyes saying, ‘Wow, this guy’s special.’ ”
(We could insert, here, a snarky passage about how we won’t really know Hill until he tells his story to Maryland’s fan base, but he can’t because Durkin has a policy prohibiting true freshmen from speaking with the media. So we have to take the word of others that Hill is talented enough to run what could be an explosive offense and mature enough to lead an entire program in his first year in college. But why bring that up?)
If Hill is, indeed, special, then the Terps could be in a spot in which they haven’t found themselves for, oh, maybe 20 years. Only once in that time has Maryland had the same quarterback lead the team in passing yards for three consecutive seasons. Terps fans are more familiar with chaos — remember 2012, when they lost four quarterbacks to season-ending injuries? — than they are consistency. If Hill can bottle the I-got-this demeanor he showed when he first entered the huddle, then maybe, just maybe, the Terps can escape the weekly “who’s-the-starter” mayhem and develop an offense around him.
“He’s grounded,” Casamento said. “He’s going to be fine. People don’t need to panic just because there’s a freshman in there. He understands what’s right and what’s wrong, and he was taught to not make a big deal out of the individual success kind of thing. You watch: He’ll bring Maryland a lot of success.”
Because Hill handled his first moment on a college football field as he did — owning it — there will be more people watching in weeks to come. Not against Towson. Not even against UCF. But what Maryland has, even in this infant stage of the season, is a victory it can build on. What the Terrapins believe is they have a quarterback around which they can build, too.
For more by Barry Svrluga, visit washingtonpost.com/svrluga.
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