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Jefferson, others leave, force Terps to fill holes

The Baltimore Sun

College Park -- As Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen gears up for his annual four-week recruiting tour, he does so this year with some unexpected holes to plug, as several players - and one coach - have informed him of their decision not to return next season.

Among them are starting middle linebacker Wesley Jefferson, who was second on the team with 110 tackles, but has decided to graduate early and pursue a career as a state trooper. Also not returning are fullback Tim Cesa, a former starter whose career was cut short by a series of concussions, and redshirt freshman fullback Chris Gronkowski, who has decided to transfer.

Friedgen said he is not sure whether offensive lineman Jared Gaither will leave school early to enter the NFL draft, but that decision is due to the league Monday. Friedgen said junior offensive tackle Brandon Nixon "just kind of flunked out of school."

"It affects me, no doubt about it," Friedgen said of the losses. "Does anything surprise me? Nothing."

Friedgen's priority during recruiting is offensive and defensive linemen - especially depending on Gaither's decision. Gaither hurt his neck (a burner) before the Boston College game Nov. 18 and never completely recovered. His mother, Joyce, when contacted earlier this week, said she expected him to return to school.

"I know he got his ranking," Friedgen said. "That's for him to tell you, not me."

Defensive tackle Dre Moore and running back Lance Ball also received rankings from the NFL to see where they might be chosen in the draft, but Friedgen said they indicated intentions to return.

Friedgen is also looking for a replacement fullback, although freshman Cory Jackson exceeded expectations when he was forced to take over.

Although there is depth at linebacker, Friedgen did not anticipate Jefferson's departure. Jefferson is taking two winter courses so he can graduate in 3 1/2 years.

"It's something he's always wanted," Friedgen said. "I told him I thought he could do it a year from now. It's just something he wants to do. He's passionate about it - probably more so than playing pro football."

The only coaching change Friedgen was sure of was the departure of defensive backs coach Tim Banks, whose hiring as defensive coordinator at his alma mater, Central Michigan, is expected to be announced Monday.

The search has begun to replace him.

"I'm going to find the best secondary coach we can get," Friedgen said. "That's not an area to fool around with."

Friedgen said he is still not sure whether he is going to surrender his position as offensive coordinator.

Several players will also miss the spring session because of injuries. Receiver Isaiah Williams, cornerback Isaiah Gardner and linebacker Rick Costa all had shoulder surgeries. Defensive end Jeremy Navarre underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee, but is already rehabilitating and is expected to be healthy by spring.

Friedgen said NCAA rules prohibit him from talking about safety Antwine Perez, a transfer from Southern California who is expected to join the Terps. A USC spokesman confirmed yesterday that Perez has been granted his release.

The one thing that appears to be certain?

Jordan Steffy is the starting quarterback - at least for now.

"I think it's Jordan's job to lose," Friedgen said. "Jordan has paid his dues here. He's improved quite a bit. I think he'll be ahead of Josh [Portis] right now just from being in meetings and taking the reps. I don't think we can go any other way right now. We'll see what happens after that."

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