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Out of big brother's shadow, Taivon Jacobs trying to help Maryland football replace DJ Moore

Maryland's Taivon Jacobs catches a touchdown pass in the second quarter as Indiana's Jonathan Crawford on Oct. 28, 2017. The Terps wore yellow jerseys for the homecoming game to celebrate the 125th season of Maryland football.
Maryland's Taivon Jacobs catches a touchdown pass in the second quarter as Indiana's Jonathan Crawford on Oct. 28, 2017. The Terps wore yellow jerseys for the homecoming game to celebrate the 125th season of Maryland football. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

COLLEGE PARK — Taivon Jacobs has spent all of his Maryland football career playing in the shadows of others. Given that Jacobs first arrived in College Park in 2013, that's a long time to be overlooked.

First it was his big brother, Levern, who came to Maryland a year before Taivon in 2012 and left in 2016 ranked seventh in program history in receptions (130) and 12th in receiving yards (1,544).

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Then it was DJ Moore, who as a sophomore emerged as Maryland's top wideout and left after a junior year in 2017 when he caught a single-season school-record 80 passes and was named the Big Ten's top receiver.

Long recovered from the injuries that curtailed his own career and granted a medical waiver by the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, the younger Jacobs is ready to turn perseverance into prosperity.

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Former Maryland linebacker Jalen Brooks is a part of a three-man team competing in the "Red Bull Can You Make It?" challenge over the next week in Europe.

"Every day I step on the field, I want to step on the field with confidence," he said after a recent practice at Cole Field House.

Asked about replacing Moore, who led the Big Ten with a 1,033 receiving yards and led the Terps with eight touchdown catches, Jacobs didn't shy away from showing some of the same quiet bravado as his former teammate.

"I tell myself I'm the best on the field, regardless of who's on the field, either side of the ball," Jacobs said. "And that was my mentality last year every time I stepped on the field. My father raised me to be that way."

Jacobs benefited at times from the attention paid to Moore last season, finishing with 47 receptions for 553 yards and five touchdowns, all career highs. With Moore gone, some of those defensive game plans will be geared toward stopping Jacobs.

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Despite undergoing three ACL surgeries, including one on each knee at Maryland, Jacobs remains one of the fastest, if not the fastest player on the team.

After tearing the ACL in his right knee in high school, Jacobs tore it again in the season opener against James Madison as a redshirt freshman in 2014. He then caught 21 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns in 2015, including a 70-yard touchdown at South Florida.

"It is considered unusual to do a revision ACL on somebody and get all their speed back," said Dr. Craig Bennett, Maryland's longtime team orthopedist. Bennett also performed the surgery on Jacobs when he tore the ACL in his left knee during the spring of 2016 and missed that season as well.

That the 5-foot-11, 170-pound receiver was able to start every game last season, and catch at least one pass in all 12, was a testament to a player some questioned for his ability to stay healthy.

Jacobs could have left after the 2017 season and tried to make the jump to the NFL — or gone elsewhere as a graduate transfer — but opted to remain at Maryland to help the Terps reverse their 4-8 record from a year ago.

He also knows that his NFL stock could improve with the anticipated return of quarterbacks Tyrrell Pigrome, and Kasim Hill, both of whom missed most of last season with torn ACLs, as well as the arrival of new offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

"It was tough because I talked it over with my family and I felt like I could've came out this year and still been able to be productive and hopefully get on somebody's [NFL] team," Jacobs said. "But I just [wanted] to come back and try to boost my stock and put my family in a better position and myself in a better position to go higher and be better."

Now 23 years old with a 6-year-old daughter, Jacobs hopes to show a little more versatility in Canada's offense, which has been known to rely on fast receivers such as Jacobs to run jet sweeps even more than in former offensive coordinator Walt Bell's over the past two seasons.

"It actually improvises my game as well because I get to show everybody that I can do more than just run routes and catch passes and touchdowns," Jacobs said. "I can get jet sweeps, [help in the] return game. I can do it all, wherever they need me out on the field."

Jacobs is the only proven receiver remaining on a team that is well-stocked with promising talent at a position that was recently depleted when sophomore Tahj Capehart tore his ACL during a practice.

"I feel like they've all stepped up," Jacobs said of the receivers. "They really don't have no choice. We don't have a lot of veteran guys, so they have to step up. They have to take on that role to get on the field because we need as much guys as we can, and the job is there for the taking."

Third-year coach DJ Durkin is counting on Jacobs not only to be one of team's top receivers, but one of its leaders given that only 29-year-old Australian punter Wade Lees is older.

"I think, naturally, Taivon is that next guy in line," Durkin said last week. "He's doing a really good job. Taivon's working as hard as he's ever worked. He's really taking it seriously. He's been a good leader to his teammates, so we're looking for big things from him."

As was the case with his older brother, being a vocal leader is not a natural thing for Jacobs.

"I had to take a different approach because I'm not a very talkative guy," Jacobs said. "So for me to change my role and to try to be a little more vocal and tell guys, like, 'Look, this is what you could work on. This is what you could be better at.'

"Even if it's just two words like, 'Do this right,' or, 'Switch up,' anything I can do to help make him a better player so that they can get on the field and produce for their family, I try to do that. And when we're in the film room, it's just everybody."

If there is a place where Jacobs feels more comfortable doling out advice, it's in the training rooms where players such as Pigrome, Hill and now Capehart spend hours trying to get back on the field, as Jacobs has had to do twice at Maryland.

"Well, as y'all already know, I've been through a lot of surgeries, so every guy that had knee surgery since I've been here, I've tried to encourage them and tell them, like, 'Look at me, man. I've been through it all and I'm still standing here. I'm still here,' " Jacobs said.

And he hopes the shadows are starting to fade.

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