By: Hunter Dortenzo – Media Relations Student Assistant
Quarterbacks Max Bortenschlager and Tyrrell Pigrome learned invaluable lessons during their first year at Maryland. Both did something many at their position don't experience as true freshmen - start a Big Ten game.
But before Pigrome and Bortenschlager took the field, each faced the tough transition coming from high school to college. Both were standouts in high school, Bortenschlager leading powerhouse Cathedral to an Indiana State Championship and Pigrome being named Gatorade Player of the Year in Alabama, but it took some time for the duo to adjust to the fast-paced tempo of the Maryland offense.
“Everything was different,” Pigrome said. “We had to adjust to our playbook and how the coaches wanted the offense run, but it was also different because of who we were going against. Everybody on the defense was bigger and if they weren't bigger, they were faster.”
The initial shock has since turned into the quarterbacks' everyday routine. No longer phased by the size or the speed of the opposition, both quarterbacks have started to enjoy themselves on the field.
“I just have to make sure I'm having fun,” Pigrome explained. “Like the coaches say, when I'm having fun, I'm playing my best.”
Pigrome's first career start came on October 15 against Minnesota. But it wasn't the first time he took the field as just two weeks prior he had the game-winning rushing touchdown in overtime to lead the Terps to a win at UCF and he saw significant action, and also scored a touchdown, at Penn State the week prior.
Against the Gophers, Pigrome completed 18 passes for 161 yards and a score, while also scampering for 71 yards on the ground.
“That stretch of games was like a roller coaster,” said Pigrome. “It was awesome to help the team win at UCF, but I feel my confidence was tested at times. I look back at it now though and realize I needed to go through that. I learned so much and now am taking those lessons into this offseason. I know what I need to work on and how I can improve.”
Bortenschlager had to wait a bit longer for his first start, which came on November 19 at Nebraska. Like Pigrome, Bortenschlager struggled at times during his debut, but he connected with D.J. Moore for a 92-yard touchdown strike early in the fourth quarter. The rookie quarterback ended the day with 14 completions for 191 yards, but more importantly drew praise from his coaches and teammates for how he hung tough throughout the game.
While both Pigrome and Bortenschlager agree that starting games as freshmen was the experience of a lifetime, they don't want that to be the end of the story. Both say they are even more driven and focused on improvements they can make, both physically and mentally, over the summer to be at their best going into training camp.
“I think my start really showed what playing in the Big Ten is all about,” Bortenschlager said. “I learned a lot that I'll be able to take into this upcoming season. In spring ball I thought I incorporated some of the things I wanted to work on, and now going into the summer and the fall, I know what I need to focus on.”
Though Pigrome showed flashes of excellence running the ball during the 2016 season, he feels he needs to showcase his passing skills to be considered a true dual threat.
“I know some people doubt me as a passer, but that just drives me to improve,” Pigrome said. “At times last year I'd try to make plays with my legs too quickly. This year, I already feel more relaxed and my passing has definitely improved.”
Sharing their first year at Maryland together, Pigrome and Bortenschlager have formed a relationship where they are close enough to provide support, but can also offer critique to each other when needed.
“Coming in together and playing the same position made us pretty close,” said Bortenschlager. “Honestly, the entire quarterback room as a whole is pretty close. We all try to help each other.”
The close bonds formed among the quarterbacks was quite transparent during the spring. At practices, Caleb Henderson, Ryan Brand, Pigrome, Bortenschlager and Offensive Coordinator Walt Bell took to the field as one unit. If one guy arrived to the field before the others, he waited for the entire group before sprinting onto the turf together.
As each quarterback continues to work to improve this summer, they realize that fall camp will be a grueling competition to see who earns the starting nod. However, both Bortenschlager and Pigrome feel much more prepared and improved going into their second camp.
And for Pigrome, he knows that everyone in that unit is working as hard as they can, but he wants to make sure everyone is still enjoying playing the game.
“I take it on myself to make sure everyone is smiling,” explained Pigrome. “We are all working so hard to be our best and we love competing. But during it all, on the hardest days, I want to make sure we're laughing, enjoying the game and always have each other's backs.”