COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Perry Hills threw 13 touchdown passes as captain of the Central Catholic High School football team last year and captured the Pennsylvania state wrestling championship at 195 pounds.
Those accomplishments are quite noteworthy, except perhaps when compared to his current athletic endeavor: Starting quarterback at the University of Maryland.
Ready or not, Hills will line up behind center Saturday as a true freshman when the Terrapins open the 2012 season against visiting William & Mary. Hills climbed to the top of the depth chart after junior C.J. Brown tore the ACL in his right knee during summer practice.
“It’s terrible for C.J.,” Hills said Tuesday. “I would have never wished that upon him, but I was ready to step in.”
Not just step in, but take control. Hills acts like a redshirt senior, quite by design. When he gathers his teammates to call a play, the offense is his — and he won’t hesitate making sure the other 10 guys know it.
“One of the most important things is taking command of the huddle,” Hills said. “If you go in there and look everyone in the eye and be confident about the play you’re calling in the huddle, everyone is going to trust you and believe in you. You can’t go into the huddle scared because the guys are going to get down. You’ve got to go in there with a lot of energy and all fired up and ready to go.”
Hills played football in western Pennsylvania, as did Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino, John Unitas and Joe Montana. But it’s not so much where he grew up, but how he grew up that makes him a solid fit to run the Maryland offense.
“High school definitely prepared me for this,” Hills said. “Wrestling, mentally and physically. Football, being a captain some of my junior year and all my senior year. That also helped me build leadership characteristics.”
Hills went 145-34 as a wrestler, and learned plenty from the experience. That’s why Maryland coach Randy Edsall knew he had a winner when he offered Hills a scholarship.
“I’ve always had pretty good luck with guys who are wrestlers who ended up playing football,” Edsall said. “I’ll take those guys all the time. With wrestling, there’s so much discipline and sacrifice. You’re out there on your own, you’re on the stage by yourself. His experience as a wrestler is what I really liked.”
Whether that translates to greatness at Maryland remains to be seen, but Edsall has a hunch he’s got a winner in Hills.
“I can’t read the crystal ball, but I think Perry will do well. He’s prepared really well,” the coach said. “He’s played in front of quite a few people in high school; the program he came from and some of the games he’s played in. I don’t think he’s going be stage struck, and I don’t think the lights of Broadway are going to affect him. I just think he’s a cool, easygoing customer that’s going to be well-prepared and will handle it well.”
The Terrapins are hoping to bounce back from last year’s 2-10 disaster. The task would appear to be more difficult now that Brown is out for the year, but Edsall said, “I’m not going to lose any sleep during the week knowing that we’re going in with Perry and that he’s a true freshman, because he doesn’t conduct himself and doesn’t handle himself as a true freshman.”
“He’s one of those guys who doesn’t get down on himself,” right tackle Justin Gilbert said. “We all make mistakes. I’m a fifth-year senior and still make mistakes. He makes a mistake and gets over it. He goes to the next play. He’s just as confident in the huddle. He does a real good job of that. He’s above where he should be as a freshman.”
That doesn’t mean Hills won’t feel a thrill when he walks onto the field at Byrd Stadium for the first time. A month ago, he figured he would suit up as a backup. Now he’s the main man on offense.
“It’s going to be very exciting,” Hills said. “I worked very hard for this. I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a great experience.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)