Maryland Coach DJ Durkin has a policy that forbids freshmen from speaking to members of the media. So Saturday, after rookie Kasim Hill was not present to explain his brilliant debut as the Terrapins’ starting quarterback in a 63-17 win over Towson, his teammates tried to do it for him.
“He’s a big freshman. Smart,” senior linebacker Shane Cockerille said in one corner of a joyous Gossett Team House auditorium.
“I don’t think he likes people to ask him if he’s ready. I think he definitely does a good job with making sure he’s prepared,” junior safety Darnell Savage Jr. trumpeted at the other end of the room.
“Kasim has been cool and calm since he got here,” sophomore right guard Terrance Davis answered on the first question he was asked, convinced that Hill’s demeanor never changed as he completed 13 of 16 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns in his first college start.
A week after he completed all three of his passes and ran for the decisive touchdown following the season-ending knee injury of sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome in the second half of a 51-41 win over Texas, Hill picked up where he left off in the Terrapins’ home opener. He completed his first eight passes against the overmatched Tigers of the lower-tier Football Championship Subdivision, catalyzing a Maryland offense that gained 534 yards on just 54 plays.
Maryland’s 63 points were its most in a game since 1954 and marked the first time in program history that it has scored 50 or more in consecutive games to open a season.
“Very efficient,” Durkin said of Hill, who also gained 41 yards on five rushing attempts. “How the game was going got us out of some things in terms of throwing the ball, but I thought he was really good.”
It was clear Saturday that no matter the opponent, no matter the fact that Hill is a 19-year-old freshman, Durkin and his veteran players have committed their trust and confidence in their new leader.
It was a difficult week in many ways, with Durkin announcing Tuesday that Pigrome would miss the remainder of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. But that setback simply opened the door earlier than expected for Hill, the former four-star prospect from St. John’s College High in the District who is widely considered the program’s future under center.
It was clear Saturday that Hill also looks the part in the present. He needed less than three minutes to lead Maryland to a touchdown on its opening drive, a swift seven-play, 62-yard march capped with a nine-yard strike on a slant to junior D.J. Moore.
Moore, who was a centerpiece in the win over the Longhorns last week, was again sensational, hauling in seven passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns. He also made the offensive play of the day on an end-around, using his chiseled 215-pound frame to bowl over a Towson defensive lineman before breaking three more tackles on his way to a 21-yard touchdown run that made it 49-7 late in the third quarter.
For much of the second half, all eyes were on Moore — as a punt returner, in light of the school’s announcement Friday night that it would give away $10,000 to a student in attendance if Moore or another Maryland player returned a punt for a touchdown in the second half.
For a moment early in the third quarter, frenzied students thought he did just that. But his jaunt into the end zone after a Towson punt was negated when an official ruled that Moore had signaled for a fair catch on the play. The $10,000 was not awarded.
Maryland generated plenty of big plays throughout the afternoon, giveaway or not. Junior running back Ty Johnson had touchdown runs of 74 and 46 yards. He finished the game with just five carries but 124 of his team’s 367 yards on the ground. Savage returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown that gave Maryland a 28-7 lead in the second quarter. Freshman Javon Leake finished the Terrapins’ scoring with a 61-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Maryland expected to work more freshmen into the fold Saturday, and by the three-minute mark of the third quarter, Durkin waved in a crop of rookies. That included Leake, three offensive linemen and wide receiver Tahj Capehart. More first-year players are expected to be integrated in the coming weeks, including former DeMatha standout Anthony McFarland Jr., whom Durkin said is still not fully healthy after coming off a serious knee injury during his senior year of high school.
“We’re going to continue to play the guys we need that can help us win championships right now but keeping the big picture in mind, which is what’s best for these guys,” Durkin said.
It’s clear that Durkin and his players believe it’s best for Hill to be on the field. Said Cockerille, a former quarterback recruit himself: “He plays a lot older than his age.”