- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2005

Maryland linebacker D’Qwell Jackson first noticed the respectful stares from classmates when he was 11. He was something different on the football field, a guy with instincts for the ball that captivated friends and scared opponents.

Now fans nationwide will notice Jackson as Maryland prepares for its Sept.3 opener against Navy in Baltimore. An All-America and Butkus Award candidate, the senior might be the ACC’s most feared defensive player since predecessor E.J. Henderson won the conference’s top honors in 2001.

“He’s a pit bull,” said Terrapins offensive tackle Stephon Heyer.

And one who will be unleashed on a conference filled with young quarterbacks. If you want to come over the middle, think again. Jackson can create havoc against the pass, level lead blockers and rush the quarterback.

“A lot of people will be coming after me, so I have to rise to their level,” Jackson said. “We want to gain all our respect back. We feel like we don’t have any now. We want to shock people.”

Jackson’s rise surprised even the Terps, who figured Henderson was irreplaceable. Instead, he may have been surpassed by his understudy, who watched two seasons of film of Henderson’s plays.

“E.J. made things look so easy,” Jackson said. “He didn’t have much to say — just follow him.”

Now the Terps follow Jackson. He led the ACC with 123 tackles last season after collecting 136 as a sophomore. The middle linebacker posted 18 tackles at Clemson and 16 each against Virginia, Georgia Tech and West Virginia, along with four sacks and two interceptions that led to touchdowns.

“D’Qwell’s greatest asset is he’s so athletic and has great instincts for the ball,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “There’s no question he’ll be leading the defense.”

Even the normally reserved Jackson conceded he’s the team leader after the losses of defensive end Shawne Merriman, cornerback Dominique Foxworth and safety Chris Kelley.

“I’m more of a leadership guy this year because we don’t have the numbers of seniors of the past,” he said. “But I won’t change. I have to be me.”

Jackson could have joined Merriman, Foxworth and Kelley in the NFL. An NFL panel rated him a high second-round choice, but the need for wrist surgery might have dropped his ratings. So Jackson returned to College Park hoping to produce a season that could propel him well into the first round.

He missed spring practice for surgery but now roams practice fields with such intensity that Friedgen noticed a distinct difference in the team’s energy during Monday’s practice when Jackson was excused to visit his ailing grandmother.

“There was something about me that said I wasn’t ready [to leave],” Jackson said. “Even if they said I was a first-round pick, I wasn’t ready. I’m finishing my degree in the spring. That’s something I want to hang up on the wall.”

Jackson is a 231-pound hardbody who has gained 30 pounds since arriving as a freshman. He gave up sodas in high school and no longer eats fast food, aside from an occasional offseason double-cheeseburger binge. Jackson devours chicken, pasta, fish and salads with the same passion that ranks him among the “Iron Terps” in the weight room.

Jackson’s only remaining goal is to reverse last year’s 5-6 mark that left the Terps out of a bowl game for the first time in four years.

“Guys don’t want to go through that again,” he said. “I’ll carry last year with me as motivation. I refuse to go out without success.”

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