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Suter, halo have been Godsend to Terps

November 01, 2002|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Steve Suter isn't exactly an angel in Maryland's backfield.

The punt return specialist sure knows how to use a "halo" to his advantage.

Suter has been bedeviling opposing punt teams while his ability to turn an everyday punt into a huge offensive weapon for the Terrapins.

"I just want to get field position," Suter said. "It is doing my part to help both the offense and the defense. Even if I get tanked after returning the kick one yard, it's one yard more than we had."

Suter's ability to break big returns has shifted momentum to the Terps' favor and forced opponents to work on ways to keep him from breaking the game wide open.

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The credentials have piled up, especially since Suter has set an Atlantic Coast Conference record with three punt return touchdowns in a season while leading the conference with a 13.8 yard average per return.

"It's a lot of things. He has a knack for returning the ball and has good vision and speed, but like anything in football, it takes a lot of things and a lot of people to make it happen," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "He's talented and daring and wants to return the ball. He has confidence."

The "halo" is the five-yard "no-hit zone" devised to protect the returner from getting hit before he fields the punt. Tacklers are required to provide the cushion or suffer a 15-yard interference penalty. The cushion, which was expanded from a two-yard radius, is designed to prevent devastating injuries while adding some excitement to games via the returns.

All the reasons are lost on Suter, who doesn't seem to know the meaning of the term "fair catch."

"(The halo) isn't a big difference for me because I didn't return punts last year," Suter said. "I came in with this being the only halo that I know. But if it weren't for the halo, I wouldn't take as many chances. I can feel the gunners (first coverage players) coming closer and maybe in the back of my line that they can't hit me."

The sophomore hasn't been afraid to take chances to get a return that will give Maryland the field position it needs for a short scoring drive or to pin the opposing offense back for the Terps' defense. Meanwhile, Suter claimed the ACC-record third TD return with his 63-yard return last Saturday in the 45-12 win over Duke.

"Our outside guys did a great job on their gunners and with the halo rule, he gets it and gets the block and then another block to get into the end zone," Friedgen said.

The act of returning a punt is a combination of courage and insanity. It's as simple as catching a flyball in the outfield in baseball with the added difficulty of standing in the middle of the road during the Running of the Bulls.

Suter's focus is do the simple things right and hope for the best.

"I try to catch the ball first," he said. "When it's in the air, it's just me and the ball and then I start feeling the pressure from the gunners coming down. Once I catch the ball, the rest of it is just bonus because we have the ball."

And with the halo, sometimes Maryland's prayers are answered when Suter pulls the miracle for a touchdown.

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