As a freshman last season, Quinton Jefferson had 13 tackles and returned a fumble against Florida State. (G Fiume/Getty Images)

There were those solitary moments when Quinton Jefferson wandered the aisles of his local Best Buy, on break from working inventory in the back, wondering just how he arrived at that place. It was 2011 and the Pittsburgh native was clocking 30 hours a week, earning nine-something an hour, schlepping flat-screen televisions to customers’ cars and slapping price tags on video game systems. His jaw was broken, the result some immature horsing around, and rather than endure a football-less freshman year at the University of Maryland, Jefferson decided to take some time off from school, work and arrive in College Park healthy.

Occasionally during shifts, Jefferson would roam the television section, where massive speaker systems boomed color commentary from the college and NFL games playing that weekend. He would stop, watch and wish it was him playing on those big screens.

“We’ve got TV’s everywhere,” Jefferson said. “Maybe I’ll go into the back on my break and catch a game. [Maryland] had a bad year that year. I was like, ‘Man, I wish I could be out there, helping my teammates.’ ”

Friday afternoon after the Terrapins finished practice, Jefferson allowed his memory to wander back to that frustrating era in his life, but those days have since faded. Now a sophomore with the Terrapins, he will open this season as a starting defensive end, a far cry from the immature high-schooler who got his jaw broken in the first place.

Jefferson declined to specify details on the injury – “Freak accident,” he said, laughing — but admitted that the player now, regularly bulldozing through offensive lineman as arguably Maryland’s biggest offseason standout, hardly resembles even his freshman self. Known to teammates as “Q,” he appeared in nine games last season, recording 13 tackles, but often struggled to grasp advanced concepts and adapt to college life. School, weightlifting sessions, practices, it all proved dizzying. He tried to outwork his teammates, but was learning on the fly and often made mistakes.

This spring, Jefferson started to become mentally sound and more familiar with defensive coordinator Brian Stewart’s system. He gained confidence, no more so than when he began bull-rushing past teammates and sacking quarterbacks. “Everything just seems natural now,” he said.

“He gets it,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “He understands what you have to do in order to be successful at this level, not just how hard you work on the field, it’s how hard you work in the weight room, it’s doing all the little things right. It’s a maturity and confidence level that’s risen for him, which is good to see. He’s in better condition this year than what he was a year ago. I’ve been pleased with his progress, but he’s still got a lot of work to do to get to the level that his God-given ability will allow him too.”

After Jefferson, rated by one recruiting service as Pennsylvania’s 25th-best prospect exiting high school, broke his jaw, he decided to remain at home. He circumvented the wires that locked his jaw shut by drinking blended chicken noodle soup through a straw, while his family ate solid foods. “Everything happens for a reason,” they said, and he trusted they were right. The day his jaw wires came off, Jefferson had ribs and macaroni and cheese. “Yeah,” he said Friday, “best meal.”

Jefferson is even hungrier now, and for good reason. Maryland’s defensive line lost all-ACC selections Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis, and reloads with Jefferson as its workhorse. His freshman highlight came against Florida State, when Jefferson scooped up a fumble and returned it 28 yards.

“Oh, Q has come a long way,” junior defensive lineman Andre Monroe said. “It’s funny. He was behind me, and I was teaching him everything I knew. To see him come out there and do it, it felt good. Watching him this summer, he really elevated his game. It’s just beautiful to see.”