Thursday, April 5, 2007

Terps’ linebacker gives up final college season

Former Gwynn Park High star prepares to enroll in State Police Academy

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Wesley Jefferson recently read a published report that he had ‘‘quit” the University of Maryland football team.

But those who know Jefferson — a Clinton native and Gwynn Park High School graduate — understand that he is anything but a quitter.

‘‘I don’t view it as quitting,” Jefferson said this week. ‘‘I view it as graduating and going to pursue my dream.”

The Terrapin football team will hold the fifth session of its 2007 spring practice this afternoon. During that time, chances are Jefferson will be at work with Alexandria, Va.-based Armstrong Management Services while he awaits the start of his ‘‘dream” career. Jefferson will enroll May 21 in the Maryland State Police Training Academy.

The Star⁄Gazette’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2002, Jefferson finished his course load at the University of Maryland in January and earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice. He still has a year of football eligibility , but he said he let the coaching staff know his plans to forego his final season last November.

Jefferson said almost everyone with the team was supportive of his decision. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen’s comments Saturday were confirmation.

‘‘I tried to tell him he could be a state trooper next year,” Friedgen joked. ‘‘Wesley was a great kid in our program, but he wanted to be a state trooper all his life. He played very well for us last year and I wish him the best. A long as [players] graduate, I don’t have a problem [with them leaving the team]. It’s when they leave and don’t graduate, then I feel I have failed them. He has another year of eligibility, but he graduated and is doing what he wants to do in life. How do you tell somebody not to do that?”

The clearest indication of Jefferson’s never-quit attitude came after the fall 2004 semester. Jefferson had flunked out of the University of Maryland.

‘‘I had to reapply,” Jefferson said. ‘‘I sat down and told my parents, but [Maryland] gave me another chance. If I hadn’t flunked out that one semester, I probably would have graduated in three years.”

Jefferson has already gotten the jump on police work, having done 15 police ‘‘ride-alongs” while he was in college. His most memorable moment was his first ride-along in May 2004, when he had a chance to ride with one of Maryland’s approximately 1,600 state troopers.

‘‘The officer had pulled someone over when he received a Code 3 call for emergency driving in response to a shooting,” Jefferson said. ‘‘The trooper asked me if I had my seat belt on. I figured it wouldn’t be that exciting. Then he darted across a parking lot, going 125 miles per hour through traffic lanes and going through rush hour traffic. I was leaning down in my seat further and further. He got a phone call [from a friend], and took it like it was nothing. I’m sitting there, nervous out of my mind. That’s part of the lure for me.”

E-mail Terron Hampton at thampton@gazette.net.