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Texas freshman LB Malik Jefferson named Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year

The recognition caps a stellar debut season for the state's top player in 2015.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Longhorns freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson joined some elite company on Wednesday when he was named Big 12 Defensive Freshmen of the Year.

The Mesquite Poteet product is now the sixth Texas player to earn that honor, joining Quandre Diggs, Brian Orakpo, Rodrique Wright, Derrick Johnson, and Cory Redding.

As the Tim Tebow-esque leader of the 2015 Texas recruiting, Jefferson's pledged almost one year ago with teammate DeAndre McNeal changed the fortunes of that class and helped head coach Charlie Strong finish with a number of huge additions leading up to and on National Signing Day.

The expectations were high for Jefferson, who was a consensus five-star prospect, the No. 10 player nationally, the No. 1 outside linebacker, and the No. 1 player in the state of Texas, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Despite those lofty expectations and a tremendous amount of pressure on the 6'2, 232-pounder, his production as a freshman often matched the hype, highlighted by a two-sack performance against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. On the season, Jefferson finished second on the team with 61 tackles and added seven tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. He also forced a fumble, broke up three passes, and recorded six quarterback hurries.

The concern moving forward is with his health -- an ankle injury ostensibly kept him out of the season finale against Baylor, but, more concerningly, he was plagued by some type of stomach issue for more than a month. Strong and the Texas staff never said much publicly about what exactly was going, opting to brush off questions, but it was clear that something that was wrong with Jefferson that would not go away and it impacted his production on the field.

As long as he can recover from whatever it was that limited him so severely late in the season, the future looks every bit as bright for Jefferson as it did a year ago and that is no small accomplishment.