By Michelle R. Martinelli
COLLEGE PARK, MD. — Since the end of Maryland’s rough 2015 season, senior quarterback Perry Hills has become a different player. He’s practically unrecognizable.
“Going through a 3-9 season, that really hurts, especially being a competitor,” Hills said. “You don’t like that at all, so you just tell yourself you’re going to do everything in your power to not let that happen again.”
Whether you ask head coach DJ Durkin, the offensive line or Hills himself, the biggest difference in the last year is confidence, partly the result of a shift in his offseason focus.
“Last year, I kind of had more confidence in my legs because that’s what I worked on in the offseason,” Hills said. “Now, I worked on throwing in the offseason — and running — and confidence has definitely been built up.”
With a 61.6 completion percentage, he’s become more efficient and comfortable moving in the pocket while averaging 137.5 passing yards per game — about 26 more than last season.
Compared with 13 picks last year, Hills threw his first interception of 2016 in the Terrapins’ 50-7 win over Purdue on Saturday. Rather than sulking, he responded with a two-minute scoring drive — which included a third-down, 30-yard run — that ended with an 11-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Teldrick Morgan, putting the Terps on the board.
And with five touchdowns on the season, Hills already has more than half as many as he threw for last year.
“He can beat you with his feet and his arm, and he’s doing a really good job of executing within our scheme of what we do and what we ask him to do,” Durkin said.
“He’s playing with confidence with now, and that’s what a confident guy does. You make a mistake, (keep your) chin high and jog off the field and say, ‘I can’t wait to get back out there.’”
Junior offensive lineman Mike Minter said because of Hills’ increased self-assurance, he trusts his throw and ability to read the defense more. But Hills’ progress could also be the result of his maturity throughout the last year, he added.
“Seeing him in the huddle, you can just see he looks more focused,” Minter said. “He’s calm, cool and collected, as opposed to being all fired up.”
Staying humble, Hills credited Maryland’s coaching staff with helping the team positive. He said when the coaching staff demonstrates trust in the players, it becomes contagious as they learn to trust themselves.
Whatever they’re doing seems to be working, as the Terps are third in the Big Ten in scoring offense — behind No. 2 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan — averaging 43.3 points per game.
“The coaches just every week tell us we can be the best offense in this program,” Hills said. “They’ve talked about how we’ve scored the most points through four games in the school’s history, and they show their confidence in us every day.”