Jaishawn Barham lurks on Maryland’s practice field as other players move through the day’s activities.
The sophomore linebacker is waiting for the quarterbacks, sneaking up behind them in the crowded proceedings on the field to yank their hand towels away. He’s done it so often that the quarterbacks, anticipating the attacks, hold the towels close.
The impish action dramatically deviates from the reclusiveness that defines Barham to the outside world. Barham’s excellent freshman season earned him All-Big Ten honorable mention and a spot on the preseason watch list for the 2023 Bednarik Award, given to college football’s Defensive Player of the Year.
He’s validated those accolades. Barham, despite being a part-time edge rusher, is tied for second on the Terps with three sacks and is third in pressures, per Pro Football Focus.
Barham is potentially the best player for a Maryland squad looking to bounce back from consecutive losses and establish itself as a conference contender. Despite that standing, he hasn’t spoken to media since he got to Maryland.
Part of that is because of coach Michael Locksley’s policy that freshmen are unavailable to the press but, even as a sophomore, Barham has not appeared in a midweek or postgame availability.
In a move that further reinforced his taciturn nature, Barham declined to take part in an interview for this story.
“That’s him,” Justin Winters, who coached Barham at Saint Frances Academy and has known him since middle school, said. “... He’s unlike anybody that I’ve met before. It’s so stoic, I can’t even put words to how he acts. That’s just Jaishawn.”
Barham spent his first two years of high school at DeMatha and frequently received nudges from Winters to bring his already apparent talent to St. Frances. The linebacker just shook his head and smiled every time. Then one day, after a training session, he came up to Winters and said the two magic words.
“I’m ready,” the coach recalled Barham telling him.
Barham exploded with the Panthers, becoming a four-star prospect and earning the attention of college coaches across the nation. Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan and and more made him offers, but even the nation’s best coaches regularly struggled to speak with Barham.
“When he got recruited, he didn’t want to talk to anybody,” Winters said. “... Coach is calling me like, ‘We’re blowing his phone up; he won’t respond’ ... and he loved the school that I’m talking about. He loved the school; he just didn’t respond.”
Barham, despite his quietness, is a troll, Winters said — the linebacker’s towel thefts are evidence of that. So was the finale to his recruitment.
He had a mantra throughout his recruitment, per Winters: “I’m gonna be a Terp.”
But, when it came for him to commit, Barham initially announced for South Carolina. Mere days later, he made the switch to Maryland. The decision seemed premeditated to spurned Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer.
“When this particular young man committed on Saturday, about 10 minutes later I got a phone call from somebody in the know up there that said, ‘Just so you know, it’s all part of the plan. He’s going to flip on Wednesday and go to Maryland,’” Beamer said at his 2021 signing day press conference. “So I can’t sit here and tell you that I was shocked.”
Barham’s move has sparked a mini rivalry between the two former Atlantic Coast Conference foes. After Maryland’s Duke’s Mayo Bowl win, Locksley recounted a lesson from former Terps coach Ralph Friedgen — call the team who won the bowl the year before you for advice.
But Locksley couldn’t call Beamer and the Gamecocks.
”But I guess South Carolina and Maryland got some issues. That’s what I heard,” Locksley joked.
Nearly two years since the flip, Barham has become more comfortable with the Terps and, because of that, started to open up.
“He’s almost a mystery to some of us … he’s a super quiet guy. He stays to himself,” Maryland receiver Jeshaun Jones said. “And he’s starting to open up more and I think that’s the biggest thing. ... He’s a great guy; he’s a cool guy.”
Jones and Barham, with like-sounding first names, often joke with each other about who is the “real Jaishawn/Jeshaun,” Jones said.
Senior linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II said that, among teammates, Barham is personable and has a lot of joy. Hyppolite also praised the sophomore’s sense of humor.
“If you get to know him, the kid is a riot,” the coach said. “He has a kind of a weird, funny sense of humor.”
He did add that Barham rarely talks, making what happened the day before Maryland’s game against Michigan State that much more notable.
The coach walked to the bus for starters and found Barham chatting up the bus driver — who Locksley described as a “a 70-year-old white guy.” Barham was asking him who he’d root for between the Terps and Spartans, per Locksley.
“Obviously the guy’s from up there and he’s like, ‘Well, I’m not rooting for anybody,’” Locksley said.
“Come on, man,” the linebacker replied, per Locksley.
Barham isn’t going to be known for a locker room speech anytime soon, but he’s grown into a more vocal leader. He’s part of Locksley’s “special forces” — the players he uses to emphasize his message to the team.
For example, if Locksley didn’t want players asking about flight arrangements for a bye week, Barham would be among the players he called to ensure none did.
In part because of how infrequently Barham uses his voice, it carries more power in the rare moments he speaks up.
As Winters said: “He can move mountains with his words, but he don’t use many of them.”