The battle to be Maryland’s starting quarterback for Saturday’s season opener lasted months, with four signal callers going back and forth. The Terps’ staff had long maintained that they would wait as long as possible to make their decision.
But with over a week remaining before opening kickoff in Austin, DJ Durkin made his choice. He brought Tyrrell Pigrome, Kasim Hill and offensive coordinator Walt Bell into his office after a team dinner and told Pigrome he had won the competition. Several days later, the sophomore was at the top when the team released its depth chart.
“He told me he was gonna go with me for the Texas game because of the way I’ve been working, just putting in my effort and pushing the team and carrying the team and leading the team,” Pigrome said.
“I was excited about it. This whole camp, this is what I’ve been trying to do—win the job, win the job, win the job. And being able to be a starting quarterback is a big honor.”
Maryland fans saw Pigrome in 11 games last year. They rejoiced when his 24-yard touchdown run lifted the Terps over UCF in double-overtime. They grumbled when he struggled mightily in his first start against Minnesota, going 18-for-37 and never establishing a downfield presence. Questions about Pigrome’s arm still linger, but at least in the coaches’ minds, he’s answered them.
“Pig had to play well before he was ready to play,” Bell said. “If the roster was where it has been or if we had stayed healthy, this would be a redshirt freshman that hadn’t played a game. But he had to play before he was ready, and that helps you improve sometimes. Sometimes those failures can help make you a better human being and a better player.”
In his senior year of high school, Pigrome threw for 44 touchdowns and rushed for 18 more. But his running abilities were far ahead of his passing skills when he got to College Park, and he’s been working to close that gap for a year now.
“Ever since high school, I knew I could pass,” he said. “But last year, the game was just so fast for me. I stayed in panic mode. I never had my feet in the right position ... so I always just threw the ball inaccurate or just threw it short.”
Pigrome didn’t play in Maryland’s bowl game against Boston College, which means Saturday will be his first game since Thanksgiving weekend last year. Between then and now, he’s gone through his first spring camp and another fall camp, plus winter and summer workouts. His focus through all of that was to earn the starting job, and it happened.
“He is a pleaser. It is important to him that he does a great job,” Bell said. “And I think that’s the No. 1 attribute—do you want to be a great player—and he’s a kid you don’t have to beg to be great.”
The reps Pigrome saw as a freshman gave him somewhat of an edge entering the offseason. With Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe, both of whom had started games in their Maryland careers, graduating after the 2016 season, Pigrome had as many snaps under his belt as anyone in the Terps competition.
“I think experience is always something that helps,” Durkin said. “The best way to get better at football is to play football. So if you’ve been out there playing, you’ve certainly had an opportunity to get better and been in the fire before.”
Pigrome and redshirt junior Caleb Henderson both saw time with the first team in spring practice, with sophomore Max Bortenschlager in the mix as well. Henderson broke his foot the week of Maryland’s spring game, leaving the two sophomores to showcase themselves that afternoon.
In fall camp, Henderson was never healthy enough to challenge for the job, but Pigrome faced a new challenger in Hill, a four-star freshman who had only been on campus a few months. A couple weeks into practice, those two separated themselves from the pack, but continued to compete with each other.
“Every day, they were made well aware that every individual drill, every ball that left their hand, every decision they made, that it was an open competition,” Bell said. “And I think that, theoretically, when you are playing for your life with every decision that you make, that’s the most pressure you can have.”
The two-man race lasted for about a week, Bell said, before the staff chose Pigrome as the starter. As he prepares for Saturday’s game, he isn’t worried about losing a competition anymore. The team trusts him.
“He’s got as much rope as he needs. It’s not gonna be, he makes one poor choice and the other kid goes running in there,” Bell said. “He’s earned it. He’s earned the right to go be the guy. And so we’ll afford him that right, and hopefully he goes out there and runs with it.”