Maryland defensive end Quinton Jefferson has spent the past four years learning a lot about patience.
Jefferson, who will be heading into his senior season in the fall, had his arrival to college delayed several months by a broken jaw sustained in a fight back home in Pittsburgh. Instead of lifting weights and learning his team's defensive schemes, Jefferson lifted boxes and learned about the inventory at a local Best Buy store where he worked.
"It made me realize I didn't want to do that," he recalled recently. "I wanted to do something better with my life. It was a humbling experience. It made me focus and think, 'I don't want to come back here ever again. If I come back, it's going to be to buy something.'"
His ascension from promising reserve his first two seasons to a valuable member of Maryland's defensive line this past season was interrupted when Jefferson sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a last-second loss to West Virginia in the team's third game.
Yet Jefferson's perspective about the season-ending injury — one that will keep him out of all contact drills at spring practice, which begins Wednesday — was different than most college players. He saw it as an opportunity to get stronger and quicker as he pursues his boyhood dream of playing in the NFL.
That's where life comes in handy.
Whenever Jefferson gets distracted or even a little depressed seeing some of his close friends on the team move on to chase their own dreams, he drives back to the apartment near campus he now shares with his wife, Nadia Jackson, their twin 7-month-old daughters Charliegh and Quinn, and Zoe, Jackson's soon-to-be 4-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.
"I definitely feel like it focuses you," Jefferson said. "I really had to prioritize my life. I can't go out and do stuff all the time like a lot of my friends. I have to be with my kids. I have a structured schedule so I can come home, study, finish my homework, clean the house so that when my wife and kids come home, I can focus on them."
'That experience helps'
Many players take what they learn on the field and apply it to their daily lives. If anything, it's the opposite for the 6-foot-3, 287-pound Jefferson.
"I always thought of myself of being a leader naturally, but now having the experience of having children of my own definitely helped me mature even more, say with decision-making," he said. "Now when I'm making a decision, it's not just affecting myself.
"I have to think about how it's going to affect my children and my wife. I think it now carries over. Decisions on the field I make I know can affect my team. It opens my mind to the fact that the decisions you make affect the people around you."
Jackson, who at 24 is three years older than her husband, works as a special education paraeducator at a Montgomery County grade school as well as at the daycare center where their children go every day. She sees how becoming a husband and father has matured Jefferson.
"He definitely tries to get his chores down so he has more time for the family, and his GPA has gone up," said Jackson, who is working on her degree in early childhood education at Montgomery College while her husband works on his in family science.
Maryland football coach Randy Edsall is looking forward to Jefferson assuming a leadership role on a defensive line that lost Keith Bowers, Darius Kilgo and Yanik Kudjoe- Virgil and Andre Monroe. He foresees Jefferson having an impact in the locker room, meeting room and weight room.
Pointing out that Jefferson already serves on the team's leadership council, Edsall said, "You can just see how much he's developed and he's grown since he's been here. He's really taken a hold of the responsibilities of being the leader and leading that group and also being a leader of the team."
Edsall said that while Jefferson is being held out of the team drills to make sure he is completely healthy going into the fall, Jefferson can use the spring to become even more of a student of the game.
"I think he can be really good," Edsall said. "I think now what will happen with him is that he'll wind up being a really good technician. He wants to learn. I think he understands the game a little bit better than he did a year or two ago. That experience helps."
'This dream can come true'
Jefferson had started to show signs of how good he might become, right up until when he suffered the injury last season.
In the midst of one of his better games — he had five tackles against the Mountaineers — Jefferson got hurt when Bowers fell back onto his right leg. Jefferson said he could feel some pain in the knee, but his adrenaline and a knee brace allowed him to finish the game.
Afterward, when Jefferson learned the extent of the injury, he realized it would be the first time since he started playing football at age 6 that he would miss games because of an injury.
Jefferson acknowledges that watching Maryland's first season in the Big Ten unfold without him was not easy, especially the road wins at Penn State and Michigan. Those were games he had looked forward to since it was announced that Maryland was joining the conference.
"I do feel like I kind of missed that," he said. "It was out of my control. It wasn't meant to happen. I'm going to look forward to these upcoming games. We get to play in the Ravens' stadium [against Penn State]. We get to go to Ohio State. I'll get to experience some of it. I'm looking forward to this year."
The experiences of the past few years have certainly made Jefferson more appreciative than many players his age. The months he spent working at Best Buy probably had the most impact until the whirlwind of the past year, when he was married on June 6 and became a father on July 8.
Even though he missed most of the season with the injury, Jefferson said, "I still feel like last year was one of the best years of my life. I had my twin daughters, I got married. I didn't let that injury slow down my year. I still had an amazing year last year."
This year he hopes will be even better. With the size and speed needed to be a pass rusher in the NFL, Jefferson is hoping that what he does during the 2015 season gets him invited to the league's scouting combine in Indianapolis next February. He admits to watching a little of this year's event to check in on his former teammates.
"I really don't dwell on that. It's something to watch, thinking, 'Dang, I'm that close to being there,'" he said. "When you see Stefon [Diggs], Deon [Long] and Kudjoe-[Virgil], I was just playing with them. That could be me," Jefferson said. "Everybody aspires to be at the combine. You sit back and think this dream can come true."
Nadia Jackson said her husband's success won't be dependant on whether he achieves that goal.
"I know I don't put pressure on him [to make the NFL]. To me I just want him to get his degree," she said. "Going pro, if that what he chooses, at long as he has that degree, I'm OK with whatever he chooses. We want the best for the family whatever he chooses."