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Maryland Defensive Player to Watch: Linebacker Jaishawn Barham

This true freshman was the crown jewel of Maryland’s 2022 recruiting class, and has made an immediate impact as a thumping linebacker.

Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The Maryland Terrapins will be looking to slow down the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday — something which they have, quite frankly, never done. At least not in football. OSU owns a 7-0 record in gridiron matchups between these two teams, all having occurred since 2014. In all seven games, UMD has surrendered at least 49 points. The average margin of victory is 37.9. And in the last two matchups – played in 2019 and 2021, respectively – the Buckeyes have put up 66 and 73 (points)! That, my friends, is less than ideal if you are Mike Locksley or a Terps fan.

But you know what they say: Every dog (or chelonian reptile) has its day. Will the eighth time be a charm for this Maryland team? Can their defense stand on its head and play a fantastic game? I tend to think it would take a herculean effort from defensive coordinator Brian Stewart and his guys to significantly slow down a C.J. Stroud-led attack, but UMD’s defense has improved from last season. The Terps are only allowing 24.6 points per game in 2022 — down from 30.7 last year, and 32.0 the year before that. So I do expect a much closer result this time around, and a scrappy performance from Stewart’s defense.

The unit in College Park is led by a disruptive secondary (30+ pass breakups), as well as a group of hyper-athletic linebacker and/or edge-types. And the defensive front is nothing to scoff at, I just happen to be more impressed by the second and third-level players. One of those aforementioned athletic linebackers is a true freshman from nearby District Heights (MD). He was a top-10 LB prospect coming out of high school, and the crown jewel of Maryland’s 2022 recruiting class. Now, he is arguably the crown jewel of their current and future defense. His name is Jaishawn Barham, and he is this week’s Defensive Player to Watch.

A graduate of St. Frances Academy, just 30 minutes from College Park, Barham was a top-130 recruit nationally. He chose UMD over South Carolina and Penn State, and thus far, Locksley and his staff must be elated by that decision. Because the true freshman’s stats do not jump off the page quite yet, but he more than passes the eye test. At 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, he moves around the field effortlessly for a player of his size, and attacks the line of scrimmage with ferocity, which is apparently in stark contrast to his off-the-field demeanor.

Barham’s coach has referred to him as a robot, and teammates are quick to point out that he is notoriously quiet. Apparently he prefers to let his play do the talking, and those on-field results have spoken quite loudly. Against Buffalo and Charlotte – the Terps’ first two opponents of the season – Barham was clearly getting acclimated to the speed of the college game, and totaled just four tackles. However, he experienced a mini-breakout in Week 3. Against SMU, he put up 12 total tackles (seven solo) and a sack. The following week, while playing in The Big House, Barham contributed eight total tackles and one tackle for loss.

Now, did Blake Corum rush for 243 yards on 30 carries in that game? Yes. But Barham was the only non-defensive back for Maryland who put up any fight against that Michigan running attack. At the very least, he was setting a future tone and laying the foundation for an eventual leadership role.

Now a Midseason Freshman All-American and Big Ten Defensive Freshman of the Year candidate, Barham has continued to be a produce in the middle of UMD’s defense. Not every outing has been a gem (one total tackle against Indiana, two against Penn State), but consistency will come with time. All told, he has been credited with 42 total tackles, 4.5 TFL, and 3.0 sacks — second or T-2 for the Terps in those latter categories.

Taking on Ohio State this weekend, Barham (and his teammates) will absolutely have their work cut out for them. We already know OSU scored 139 points between the 2019 and 2021 matchups, and statistically speaking, this 2022 version of the Buckeyes’ offense is even better! But so is this year’s version of the Maryland defense. Across the board, it is a talented unit. And Barham is arguably the most talented player of the bunch.

He became a plug-and-play LB just three weeks into his college career. He is big, he is fast, and he brings the noise as a tackler. I see Barham as a potential Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year candidate sooner than later, meaning I will definitely have my eyes on this impressive true freshman Saturday.