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May 2, 2006
Maryland's next great middle linebacker doesn't mind revealing his softer side.
Wesley Jefferson is tough enough to pursue a postgraduate career in law enforcement, but he also is artistic enough to play the piano every day. He doesn't care if teammates tease him about his favorite hobby.
"It's a great stress reliever," Jefferson said, "and the ladies like it, too."
As much as he enjoys tickling the ivories, Jefferson would rather not spend another holiday season playing Christmas carols instead of football.
Maryland went 5-6 last year and failed to reach a bowl for the second consecutive season. Jefferson plans to make sure that trend doesn't continue.
"No one wants to stay home for the holidays and watch bowl games on TV," Jefferson said. "We want to be out there. Since we don't get paid, that's our payday."
Maryland probably won't reach a bowl game this season without a big year from Jefferson, a first-year starter attempting to continue the Terrapins' recent history of outstanding middle linebackers.
Jefferson's two immediate predecessors at middle linebacker ? E.J. Henderson and D'Qwell Jackson ? won three of the last four Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Henderson now is a starting linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings. The Cleveland Browns selected Jackson in the second round with the 34th overall pick in last weekend's NFL Draft.
"I feel a little bit of pressure," Jefferson said. "There are a lot of expectations because of D'Qwell and E.J., but I think I'm up to the challenge of continuing our tradition of great middle linebackers."
Jefferson has encountered great expectations since he signed with Maryland.
The former five-star prospect earned numerous prep All-America honors after collecting 317 tackles and 23 sacks his final two seasons at Gwynn Park High School in Brandywine, Md.
He didn't get an opportunity to make an immediate impact because he was behind Jackson on the depth chart. Jefferson still recorded 57 tackles last year, the highest total for any non-starter.
Jefferson entered spring practice as Jackson's heir apparent and solidified his position in the last few weeks.
"He is very steady," defensive coordinator Chris Cosh said. "He very rarely makes a mental error. I think he improved all spring."
Jefferson has benefited from the fact he's concentrating on one position. After alternating between weakside linebacker and middle linebacker last year, Jefferson finally is focusing entirely on his natural position in the middle.
That's why Jefferson's high school coach believes Maryland fans are in for a treat this fall.
"You'll see a difference in Wes this year," Gwynn Park coach Danny Hayes said. "He's not an outside linebacker. He's at home now as a middle linebacker. He's comfortable and feeling good. I won't be surprised if he makes All-America this year and the year after that. He's just that type of person."
He might need to have that type of season to match the production of Jackson, who led the ACC in tackles each of the last two years.
Jefferson doesn't mind the fact his predecessor set such a high standard. He credits Jackson for teaching him the proper way to play middle linebacker.
"I've learned just to have a passion and be relentless," Jefferson said. "Never quit at anything. He didn't. He was always relentless and getting after it."
Jefferson possesses that same attitude toward his pursuits on and off the field. He has big plans for his future ? plans that don't necessarily involve football.
The junior criminology and criminal justice major would like eventually to begin a career in law enforcement. Jefferson has wanted to go into the field since he was a 5-year-old watching the television show "Cops" with his father.
Law enforcement might have to wait a while. If Jefferson plays as well as Henderson and Jackson, the NFL should come calling in a year or two.
Most future NFL players dream of buying a house and car as soon as they sign their first contract. Jefferson has added a third item to his potential shopping list.
He kept a keyboard under his bed throughout his childhood and has played it just about every day since his senior year of high school. Jefferson wouldn't mind replacing it with something much bigger.
"I'd get a grand piano," Jefferson said. "I'd get a house, then I'd buy that. Then I'd get a car."
(Keith Cavanaugh of TerrapinTimes.com contributed to this report).
For more coverage of the Maryland Terrapins, check out TerrapinTimes.com.