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Perry Hills is back for his final round as Maryland’s starting QB

Coaches are touting his improvement again, but he has a lot to prove after 2015.

maryland football spring game practice Alexander Jonesi

Between sleeping in his office and running what’s going to be a breakneck offense, Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell has an intensity that’s hard to match. Quarterback Perry Hills is spending as much time with his coordinator as possible, and if he fails this season, it won’t be for a lack of effort.

“He certainly understands that moderation is for cowards,” Bell told reporters Wednesday. “He understands that anything worth doing is worth overdoing.”

As a redshirt senior, this is Hills’ last shot to be this team’s quarterback.

“This could be my last year of playing football,” Hills said. “It’s time to just go out and have fun.”

He won the preseason position battle for the second year in a row, and his surrounding cast is mostly the same. Running back Brandon Ross is gone, but the team has a group to replace him and brings back almost all of its wide receivers from 2015.

Hills was Maryland’s quarterback in Week 1 last season, but by Week 3 he was watching from the sidelines, as Randy Edsall benched him in favor of Caleb Rowe for the Terps’ next three games. Hills was inaccurate, and could rarely string together enough completions to get a drive going. This inefficient offense prodded Edsall to make the change, but Rowe didn’t fare any better. Hills got another chance, starting five games in a row before ceding to Rowe for the team’s final two matchups. Hills only completed 50 percent of his passes and contributed 13 of the team’s FBS-leading 29 interceptions. He only topped 50 percent completion in two games. That wasn’t easy to stomach.

“If you just take the athletic ability out of it and you just go pure mental toughness, he can get to a real dark place and survive there for a very long time,” Bell said. “So mentally he’s as strong a human being as I’ve ever seen.”

Still, Hills has the stink of last season hanging over his head. No matter what he does this season, it’s extremely unlikely that he’ll have a year like he had in 2015. This year’s Maryland team will be more tailored to his strengths.

“The easiest way to make the quarterback successful is don’t ask him to do the things that he can’t do,” Bell said. “If you want your quarterback to struggle, ask him to do a bunch of things that he doesn’t do very well. The things that Perry does real well: he’s tough, he’s rugged, he throws a really nice deep ball, which is a surprise for me, especially when you look at some of last year’s tape.”

Coming into 2016, Hills wasn’t the dark horse in the competition. He was the favorite, and it wasn’t particularly close. Durkin didn’t give any insight into the matter during the first few weeks of fall camp, but Hills was clearly outperforming the competition.

“He’s done the best job from the day I got here until right now,” Bell said. “In terms of leadership, all the things that he’s going to bring to the table outside of his skills, he’s done the best job of taking care of the football and he’s done the best job in terms of mastery of the offense — operating at the line of scrimmage, eliminating a lot of the unforced errors.”

This doesn’t mean Hills hasn’t come a long way to reclaim his starting job. After watching Hills on the first day of spring practice, Bell said he wanted to just go back to his old job at Arkansas State. But what eventually stuck out to Maryland’s offensive coordinator was that in every grueling, endurance-based drill, Hills made sure to always be the last man standing.

“Do a wall sit. He’ll do one for seven hours,” Bell said. “He’ll do it until every other player falls down. Run. Run as fast as you can, as long as you can. He’ll be the last man standing. Just name a physical competition that involves some guys, and he’ll win the drill.”