Ever since sophomore Max Bortenschlager became Maryland's starting quarterback after freshman Kasim Hill suffered a torn ACL in his right knee during a loss to Central Florida Sept. 23, Bortenschlager's coaches and teammates have lauded his quiet confidence and even-keeled demeanor.
Bortenschlager's low-key personality was apparent well before the Terps were even on his radar, according to his private quarterback coach Levar Johnson, who began working with Bortenschlager after his junior season at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis.
"He was playing in seven-on-seven football with me, and he thought that [University of] Buffalo was going to offer him," Johnson said. "We had a meeting that night and [I] was like, ‘Hey, if Buffalo offers you, let me know. It's a big deal.'
"And so we get up the next day, play in the tournament, get done with the tournament, go back to the hotel, everybody's eating and whatnot, and I open my phone and on Twitter it says that Max Bortenschlager just got offered by Buffalo. And so I call him up. I'm like, ‘Max, why didn't you tell me?' He was like, ‘Oh, I just … I don't know.'"
This year, however, the Terps have seen the mild-mannered, studious Bortenschlager develop as a quarterback and a leader. Bortenschlager has played by far the most out of any Maryland quarterback this season due to injuries. Sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome suffered a torn ACL in his right knee during the Terps' season-opening win at Texas Sept. 2, and Hill went down two games later. Bortenschlager himself was injured in two different games, which led to snaps for junior Caleb Henderson and redshirt sophomore Ryan Brand.
It's the third straight season the Terps have had at least three different quarterbacks start games, and this time the unfortunate spate of injuries led to an opportunity for Bortenschlager, who has played in eight games at quarterback -- starting six -- entering play Nov. 11.
"He's definitely more confident," junior running back Ty Johnson said of Bortenschlager. "He talks way more, because him being the starting quarterback, he has to be more assertive and everything. He's been more comfortable, and you can just see that when he's on the field. He looks [smoother] when he's in there throwing the ball, going through his reads. He doesn't look all jittery and everything."
That Bortenschlager even was in a position to be Maryland's starting quarterback couldn't have been predicted throughout most of his recruitment. Bortenschlager quarterbacked Cathedral's varsity squad during his junior and senior seasons, passing for 2,270 yards and 21 touchdowns as a junior in leading Cathedral to the Indiana 5-A state championship in 2014.
Bortenschlager originally committed to Buffalo. But Maryland's coaching staff, which was newly assembled under DJ Durkin in late 2015, lost Dwayne Haskins, a quarterback commit under the previous staff, to Ohio State. That left the Terps scrambling for quarterback depth, and new special teams coach Pete Lembo had known Bortenschlager from when he recruited him at Ball State.
About a week before signing day in February 2016, Bortenschlager received unexpected interest from Maryland.
"[Lembo] reached out to me and said, 'Would Max be interested in Maryland?'" Bortenschlager's high school coach, Rick Streiff, recalled. "And I was like, ‘Oh boy, this is going to kind of shake up the apple cart, but let's see what happens.' Pulled Max out of class and I said, ‘Hey, any interest?' And he goes, 'Coach, it's the Big Ten,' and I said, ‘Yup.' He goes, 'I've got to at least take some interest, don't I?' I go, ‘Son, it's your four or five years, man. You've got to do what's best for you. But it is Big Ten football.'"
That led to a visit to Maryland the weekend before signing day.
"I talked to Coach Lembo, and then [offensive coordinator Walt Bell] flew out," Bortenschlager said. "We sat down and talked together during school, and then [I] came out and visited, and I loved it. Loved the coaches, loved the environment, what Coach Durkin's all about, what he wanted his program to be about. And then, obviously, this is a great school academically, which was huge for me, too."
Bortenschlager competed for time at quarterback right away as a true freshman in 2016, and though Perry Hills won the job and started 11 of Maryland's 13 games, Bortenschlager got a chance to start at Nebraska last November. It was the first start of his career and only the second time he had played since becoming a Terp. He completed 14 of 29 throws for 191 yards, including a 92-yard catch-and-run by receiver DJ Moore, during the loss.
Bortenschlager worked with Johnson, a quarterback coach at InFocus Sports Training in Fishers, Ind., after the Terps' season ended and again after school ended the following spring. In watching film, Johnson said he noticed Bortenschlager held onto the ball too long, so the duo got to work on making quicker decisions with the ball. Johnson also told Bortenschlager he'd have to get better at extending plays with his legs.
Bortenschlager again competed for the Terps' starting job this summer, but began the season third on the depth chart behind Pigrome and Hill. Bortenschlager struggled after getting thrown into the fire against UCF, throwing two interceptions and being sacked five times. But he bounced back a week later at Minnesota Sept. 30, completing 18 throws for two touchdowns and leading the Terps on a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter.
Since then, it's been an up-and-down season for Bortenschlager, who is completing 51.2 percent of his throws for 1,007 yards with 10 touchdown passes entering play Nov. 11. One of Bortenschlager's points of emphasis has been quickening his decision-making process; he did the best in that regard during a win against Indiana in October when he completed 10 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns. Moore has also been helpful; Moore has caught nearly half of the completions by Maryland quarterbacks this season.
As Bortenschlager has developed, the temperament he's had since high school endeared him to his teammates.
"I think one of Max's strengths is that he is the same guy every day," Bell said, "and when somebody has that type of mental maturity -- the consistency they bring to the workplace every day -- I think those are the things that allow kids to get comfortable and know that they can count on this guy."
Bortenschlager succumbed to the rash of injuries to Terps quarterbacks at Rutgers Nov. 4, when he was forced to leave the game with a shoulder injury after a big hit. Brand took over and nearly led Maryland to an overtime session against the Scarlet Knights.
The camaraderie among quarterbacks has helped Bortenschlager.
"Me, Caleb [Henderson] and Ryan, we're really good friends," Bortenschlager said. "[Oct. 30], actually, we went to Looney's and watched ["Monday Night Football"] and went back to my room and watched some TV. We're a really close quarterback room. It's been fun. They're my biggest supporters.
"I think they help me a lot. We all push each other; in drills in practice, we always compete, we always try to make it a game or something. I think them pushing me has really helped me a lot."
Issue 239: November 2017