After unexpected break from football, Quinton Jefferson happy to join Terps

The Baltimore Sun

While 20 members of Maryland’s 2011 recruiting class labored through the Terps’ 2-10 season, Quinton Jefferson labored in a stock room nearly five hours away from College Park.

Jefferson, the 21st member of that class, was Randy Edsall’s first commitment as Maryland’s coach. The 6-foot-4 defensive end out of Woodland Hills High in Pennsylvania was considered a major coup for the Terps, who he selected over Cincinnati, Iowa and Pittsburgh, among others. Jefferson took part in Signing Day one year ago, but the three-star prospect never made it to College Park last summer, spending his time instead working at a Pittsburgh-area Best Buy.

“Around July, I realized I couldn’t come. And it hurt me. It hurt my soul,” said Jefferson, who had an undisclosed medical issue that he declined to comment on. “I was down for a little bit. But then my parents just kept telling me, ‘You’ll be alright. You’ll come [to Maryland] before you even know it.’ So I just kept down my head, kept working hard. I had my goal that I wanted to get back here in the best shape I could possibly be.”

Nearly a year after signing his letter of intent, Jefferson finally made it to College Park, enrolling at Maryland last month. Jefferson met with the media Wednesday after Edsall’s Signing Day news conference. Now technically a member of the 2012 class, Jefferson has so far enjoyed getting a jump on his classmates.

“It’s been what I expected, working hard, just getting back in the rhythm of working out and schoolwork,” he said. “But it’s been fun. I’m enjoying myself.”

When Jefferson found out that he would be unable to attend Maryland last fall, he didn’t wallow in his sorrow for long. Rather, the future Terp dedicated himself to working and training. At Best Buy, Jefferson worked from 4 a.m. to around 1 or 2 p.m., unloading merchandise from trucks and into the electronics superstore.

So while his Maryland classmates got acclimated to college, Jefferson worked the graveyard shift.

“It was a humbling experience because you see what could happen if you don’t get an education,” Jefferson said. “I just realized I can’t do this for a living. I’ve got to get my education, get back in school and get my head back on straight.”

Edsall said he went out to Pittsburgh to visit Jefferson while he was still working at Best Buy. The Terps coach was impressed by his future player's work ethic.

"You talk about a young man who has a better appreciation for everything that's going on," Edsall said Wednesday. "He had to work so now he knows how getting his education and doing the things that you're supposed to do, he's much more mature because of what he had to go through. Again, he's very grateful to be here. He learned a lesson there.

"It was impressive to sit down and ask what what he learned through that whole thing."

 When he wasn’t at Best Buy, Jefferson said he was usually at the gym with a friend who’s studying to be a trainer. Jefferson, who also did speed training and football-related drills with a Pittsburgh-area trainer, added 20 pounds to his frame.

Delaying his arrival at Maryland by six months turned out to be beneficial, because “in the summer I was weak,” Jefferson said. “I was little. I was like 230. But since I had the time off, I was able to eat, get my strength up and get to like 250.  So now I’ll be able to come in and really, really have a good shot at competing and getting on the field and be at my maximum ability and strength.”

Despite Maryland’s disappointing 2011 season, Jefferson said he never wavered in his commitment to the Terps. The UM coaching staff never gave up on him, and Jefferson returned the favor by staying loyal to the Terps. He came to College Park to watch the Miami and Clemson games, and continued working hard on getting ready for the 2012 season.

“They still believed in me and still had faith in me,” Jefferson said. “I just made a commitment here. I’m a man of my word. I felt like I still have to uphold that, come back to school here. … It’s just a family environment. And then Edsall wants us to be great. I just believe in what he’s trying to do here. He’s pushing us ... to the limit and gets the best out of us.”

Jefferson’s last competitive football action came last June in the Big 33 Football Classic, an annual all-star game pitting the top players from Pennsylvania against Ohio’s best. For Jefferson, a life without football since that day “was definitely hard.” But in a way, the Maryland freshman is thankful for going through what he did.

“The whole time just really humbled me and I realized that I really can’t take this for granted because not many people have an opportunity like this to play football and go to school, especially if you’re on scholarship,” said Jefferson, who’s now 100 percent healthy. “So it just humbled me and made me hungry and want to work hard so when I get here I can get on the field and help my teammates out and just be great and win games.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Don Markus contributed to this article.

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