Suter's mere presence unsettles opponents

September 23, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - University of Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen might consider having a full-sized, cutout photo taken of Steve Suter before he graduates.

It could become the good luck charm for Terrapins football teams to come. All Maryland would need to do is just stand it up whenever there's a punt. After all, all Suter has to do is stand on the field right now and just the sight of him throws opposing kicking games out of sync.

Suter has built a reputation as the most dangerous kick returner in the Atlantic Coast Conference - and maybe the country - in his stay at Maryland. The respect is so strong, Suter doesn't even have to touch a kick to help give the Terps favorable field position to start drives.


"It's amazing to have Steve and the field position we get because he's there," Friedgen said. "Even when he isn't getting returns, he's a threat for us."

Opposing kickers have been trying every tactic to keep the ball out Suter's hands on special teams. They kick off long. They pooch kickoffs 20 yards short. They punt the ball to the other side of the field. Or they punt the ball out of bounds. But no matter what they try, the Terps have benefited in field position because of the unnatural strategy.

"(Opposing teams) kick away from him and try kicking the ball out of bounds," Friedgen said. "They end up kicking short and only end up punting the ball 25 yards. They try to kick it out of bounds and they end up coming up with short kicks. And when they do kick short, one of the things I like about Steve being back there is that he comes up to catch the ball before it hits the grounds and rolls for 20 yards."

Suter brings a reputation to the table with 101 returns for 1,155 yards and six touchdowns in his career. He is 36 yards short for the most punt-return yardage in ACC history.

All that has translated into Suter getting only seven chances to make returns in 16 punts this season.

To say the least, the kicking game has become a chess game when Suter is on the field.

Despite nagging knee injuries, Suter is still more than most teams want to handle. West Virginia kickers played a game of cat-and-mouse with Suter, trying to keep him from making the big runback. The Mountaineers chose to kick punts out of bounds - most times resulting in extremely short kicks.

On kickoffs, two of WVU's were fielded at the 20 instead of chancing shots in the end zone.

"It was a trend," said Maryland punter Adam Podlesh. "They tease him with one and he runs it back down their throats. Then they get scared and kick away from him. He is by far the greatest kick returner I've ever played with."

Podlesh watches Suter closely. The pair works together in Maryland's special-team drills as Podlesh kicks to Suter while the Terps work on coverages. It becomes a game as Podlesh tries to be the guy to stop Suter, even if it's only in practice.

"I work with him all the time and he's helpful," Podlesh said. "If I get a good punt off and give the coverage team time to get downfield and he has trouble returning it, then I know I did well. I use it as a learning tool to carry over to games."

Podlesh acts as a second pair of eyes for Suter when sizing up the opposing special teams. Podlesh's position gives him some perspective he hopes can help Suter.

"There's times that I talk to him," Podlesh said. "I'll look at the rush the other team is getting or I'll tell him about the way the winds blowing. Punters and kickers sense the wind more than the other players. The wind might be at the kicker's back and he would be able to blast it. He usually knows all of that. Still, there are times that I can sense when he's going to have a big return."

It's the threat that Suter brings for Maryland that makes Podlesh glad he's not an opponent.

"I'd be afraid of him if I had to kick to him," he said.

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