Maryland quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome stepped onto an antigravity treadmill last month and slowly began to run for the first time since September. It was a breakthrough moment for the sophomore in his recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in a season-opening win against Texas in September, and freshman teammate Kasim Hill was there to celebrate each step.
In that moment, Hill wondered how good it would feel to run again. During an ugly loss to Central Florida, he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee exactly three weeks after Pigrome, which sent the position into disarray for the rest of a disappointing 4-8 season. That’s why on the day last month Hill was scheduled to run on the antigravity treadmill himself, he woke up early and noticed it felt like a Saturday morning in the fall. He put on his game-day playlist as if he were preparing for kickoff. And he was hyped up more by Pigrome.
“We pick each other up,” Pigrome said.
When Maryland football opens spring practice Monday, neither Pigrome nor Hill will participate. They are expected to be back for the beginning of fall camp in August, when they will compete against each other for the starting job for a second consecutive year. Questions remain whether they will be the same players they were before their injuries, let alone whether they can stay healthy.
But while both Pigrome and Hill are accustomed to competing against one another at the most important position on the field, they have leaned on each other during their rehabilitation. Both are determined to prove they can return to the form that led Maryland to that riveting 51-41 win over Texas, in which Pigrome accounted for three touchdowns in three quarters before Hill came on in relief and engineered the decisive fourth-quarter scoring drive. And both are convinced that the maturity they have gained through the difficult moments of their recovery can stabilize a position that has long been hampered by injury and inconsistency.
Maryland has submitted medical hardship waivers to the Big Ten for both players and is awaiting approval from the conference, but both Pigrome and Hill are expected to preserve a season of eligibility because they were both injured so early. That is a consolation for what has been a painful road to recovery.
“It’s just given me a different way of seeing the game, looking at it from a different perspective . . . kind of like a coach,” said Hill, a former four-star prospect from St. John’s College High in the District who had never missed a game because of injury before last season. “So it’s definitely been a good perspective to see.”
Said Pigrome: “With life, after this injury, you just look at things differently.”
Pigrome and Hill are fully aware of Maryland’s quarterback-injury curse; the team started four players at the position last season and has had six starters under center in the past three seasons. After Pigrome and Hill were the fourth and fifth Maryland quarterbacks to suffer torn ACL injuries in the past six years, they were relieved by third-stringer Max Bortenschlager, who threw for just 1,313 yards and also dealt with multiple injuries.
Bortenschlager, a junior, will lead the position during spring practice, where he will get his first chance to work with recently hired offensive coordinator Matt Canada , but Pigrome and Hill are expected to assume their positions atop the depth chart once they are fully healthy.
It will be possible only because of the hurdles they have helped each other overcome. Both struggled mentally with their new realities after surgery. While they continued to watch film and assist the offense as much as possible, their injuries meant they would spend time away from the teammates they were supposed to be leading, tucked away in rehab. So they grew closer than ever.
“It was comforting to have someone there,” said Hill, who completed 18 of 21 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns in three games last season. “Every day, it feels like we’re in it together.”
Every ACL recovery is tailored to the athlete by Maryland’s training staff, but Pigrome and Hill advise each other daily. If Hill felt pain in a certain area of the knee, he might ask Pigrome to explain the source of discomfort; if Pigrome needed support during a physical therapy session, he would find it from Hill. They started daily sessions of kneeling on their left knees and throwing the football back and forth. Still, the training staff was focused on not lumping their recoveries together.
“There are certainly some consistencies with them. But I think it’s inherent on our part to treat them differently because they are different. Yes, they’re both quarterbacks. Yes, they both have primary ACL injuries. But they also have each individual subtle secondary injuries that go along with that. . . . Their recovery progressions were a little bit different,” said Wes Robinson, Maryland’s head athletic trainer. “With that being said, too, it is nice to have them paired up together because we can use one to motivate the other one.”
Pigrome and Hill don’t often watch the plays that resulted in their injuries, which were similar. Pigrome was crushed on an improvised run against Texas; Hill was sandwiched by two defenders after trying to spin on a run in the open field. Both players admit that there have been times in their careers that they could have protected themselves better, but running is a crucial part of their skill set.
That’s not expected to change, although the injuries could limit their speed. Moreover, there will be more mental hurdles to overcome together once they return to the field and compete with each other for the starting job.
“We’re just doing our thing, working,” Pigrome said. “We just motivate each other.”