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Terps' Heyer ready to play after rehab

August 31, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Stephon Heyer admits that he's been there and done that.

But one can excuse the University of Maryland offensive tackle if he doesn't get the T-shirt to show for it.

The 2005 season was a painstaking time in the redshirt senior's life. Heyer, who was one of Maryland's most accomplished linemen in 2004, was out. He was no use to the Terps and no use to himself.

On Saturday, Heyer will complete the road back - taking the playing field for the first time since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the first week of last year's fall camp - when the Terps play William & Mary at 6 p.m. at Byrd Stadium.

"I haven't played for a long time. I haven't done this in a long time," Heyer said. "I'm excited about getting on the field, in front of a crowd in a live game situation."

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So are the Terps.

After all, 6-foot-6, 320-pound offensive linemen - especially those with size 22 feet - don't come along all that often. They are usually out there in the trenches, protecting a quarterback or leading the way for running backs. They're not usually carrying a clipboard or clapping hands on the sideline.

Heyer's game was reduced to watching, waiting, hoping and sweating behind the scenes. His aim was to get back on the field, but it wasn't all that easy.

"The main thing about rehab is that it is tough," Heyer said. "You get up early every morning and do the same tedious exercise and hate it. It's a real pain in the neck. And then, every time you feel like you are catching up again, you start falling back."

Facing the defensive rush was a lot easier for Heyer than working himself back into shape.

When playing, Heyer had a game to point to every week. When in rehab, the goals - and the confidence - weren't so well defined.

Heyer found he had self-doubt about where his future would be. He relied on others to help him get by.

"I was getting by from the insight of my mom and the insight of a lot of other players who have gone through it," Heyer said. "My mom and (head football trainer Bryan Matson) kept getting inside my head and getting after me to make sure I didn't fall apart."

The tough part is over for Heyer. Now he gets the chance to take the field for the first time in 22 months.

It's time to leave rust and doubt in his locker and shove his size 22s into his size 18 cleats for Saturday.

"The toughest thing about coming back is getting to game speed," Heyer said. "You can watch all the film you want but it won't tell you what technique you will need to use once you get going at game speed. I'm trying to take care of my body. I'm not worried about my knee. If I was, I shouldn't be out there. I have to shake it and keep going."

But even though Heyer has a clean bill of health, the very thought of being around another knee injury is something that sits in the back of his mind.

"(Getting the knee in shape is) an ongoing process," Heyer said. "I'm just trying to stay healthy."

"If it happens and I have to do it all again, I don't know if I would be able to go there again. When I hear about a pro player or a former teammate getting hurt like that, it breaks my heart. It is a grueling process."

But it will be all worth the effort come Saturday when he plays again for the Terps. In the darkest of days of rehab, that was the light at the end of the tunnel for Heyer.

"I've been ready to go again," he said. "I have been ready for a while I've been ready since the day I hurt myself."

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