Maryland football quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome did everything right.
After struggling in the passing game as a true freshman, he overcame criticism to beat out Kasim Hill and Max Bortenschlager for the starting job against Texas. Then, he proved doubters wrong with a sensational three-touchdown performance against the Longhorns, helping the Terps earn their first upset win since 2010.
But following the three best quarters of his career, Pigrome suffered the nightmare all athletes dread: a season-ending ACL tear.
As hype builds around Maryland's new starter Hill entering Saturday's tilt with Towson, fans may not consider Pigrome's setback. By the middle of October, they might forget how close he came to cementing himself as a program leader. After all, as Pigrome's teammates try to build momentum from his remarkable leadership in Texas, he'll spend the next nine months rehabbing.
Given Hill's potential, Pigrome might never start again.
"There have been a lot of people in this building who have fought for that kid to be here and love that kid dearly," offensive coordinator Walt Bell said. "That kid's been through a lot. For him to do what he did from the day the season ended until last Saturday, and to have that taken away from him, that's heartbreaking."
Pigrome has the kind of underdog story that mimics movies like Rudy. The Pinson, Alabama, native was always a skilled rusher and came to College Park as a three-star recruit. He ran for 254 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman. But critics doubted his ability to throw in the pocket and make game-changing plays downfield.
Those weaknesses were on display during his rookie campaign as he completed 52.1 percent of his passes and threw as many interceptions as touchdowns.
When Caleb Henderson transferred from North Carolina and Hill, a four-star recruit, committed to Maryland, did anyone actually believe Pigrome would win the starting job?
At the very least, Pigrome did.
Before and after practices — sometimes in the wee hours of the morning — Pigrome bothered receivers to practice routes and get more comfortable with the offense. Henderson injured his foot, and Pigrome beat out Hill for the signal caller role after improving his pocket presence.
Not only did Pigrome thrive in his new role against Texas, but he put together one of the best performances of any Maryland quarterback in years.
It's hard to pinpoint when the Terps last received that poised of a showing from their quarterback, but it probably hasn't happened since Danny O'Brien's 417-passing yard, four-touchdown game vs. then-No. 21 NC State in 2010. However, O'Brien never won in an atmosphere similar to that of Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium — with 88,396 rowdy fans overlooking him and two million more watching on TV.
"He showed everyone what he is capable of doing," coach DJ Durkin said. "He'll be missed by all of us, but Pig is a tough, tough guy. Tough competitor, and he will bounce back, come back and be a great player for us here in the future."
Durkin seems a tad optimistic, though. What makes Pigrome's injury especially awful is he may not get another chance to prove himself. Hill is tabbed to have the athleticism, powerful arm and calmness to lead Maryland for the next four years, and he shares a similar skillset with Pigrome.
But Drew Gilmer, Pigrome's high school coach, expects the quarterback to help teammates even when he's sidelined.
"People will remember who Pig is real soon," Gilmer said. "He's a very … go with the flow kind of guy. He's going to have a smile on his face. He doesn't let little things like that bother him."
Pigrome's name may leave Maryland faithful's minds as the Terps pursue bowl eligibility. But come summer camp, he'll be back, fighting for a place in the 2018 quarterback picture.
If we've learned anything from the past year, it's to not bet against Piggy.