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Terps turn to Heyer power

December 22, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Life on the football field had been a dream for Stephon Heyer.

At 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds, Heyer could do just about anything he wanted as an offensive lineman. It had been that way all the way through high school and his first three years at the University of Maryland.

Not even a serious knee injury seemed to sour the sweetness of the dream. Heyer missed the 2005 season to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, but with hard work, came back to man the line for the Terps at the start of the 2006 season.

Life, and the dream, was still good.

Then, it happened.

Everything changed.

Heyer received a wakeup call.

It came like one of those alarm clocks that need to be thrown against the wall to be shut off. It was loud, shrill and a real attention grabber. The alarm rang on Oct. 7 at about 3 p.m.

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"It was a situation where I got beat at the end of the (Georgia Tech) game (a 27-23 loss)," Heyer said. "I was at an all-time low. That had never happened to me."

It came at the worst possible time for Maryland in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener. The Terps started with a first-and-goal at the 7-yard line in the final minute. It ended with Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson getting to Maryland quarterback Sam Hollenbach on both third and fourth downs to end the drive and a chance to win.

It made Heyer realize that a new day was dawning and the perfect dream was over.

"I vowed it would never happen again," Heyer said. "It turned my thoughts to what I had to do get back. I knew I was a little weak, so I had to put in extra time. I had to watch more tape and I had to spend more time conditioning and rehabilitating."

It was a huge change for Heyer because everything had come so naturally. Before the injury, he was considered a prime specimen for a job on some NFL offensive line.

The one glitch didn't change it, but it forced Heyer to realize he needed to refocus.

"After the Georgia Tech game, I saw a new resolve in him for the rest of the year," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "I think he has practiced very well. I think he has really come up big in games like Clemson and Miami. There were many times he went one-on-one with those guys and did the job."

It started by forgetting the dream and dealing with a little reality.

All of Heyer's physical tools were still there, just different. The knee injury made him a different type of player. He needed to be smarter. He was forced to assess his style to realize and compensate for those differences.

"That was the main problem." Heyer said. "I had done things without much effort before. Now I had to put in the effort and had to learn my limitations now. When I was a freshman and sophomore, I had no limitations. Now I had to learn it again."

It has been a constant progress through the rest of the season, which is about to reach its final stop on Dec. 29 in Orlando, Fla., against Purdue in the Champ Sports Bowl.

Heyer worked and faced a major test on Nov. 4 at Clemson. He was up against defensive end Gaines Adams - the eventual ACC Defensive Player of the Year - and limited the 6-5, 260-pound end to three tackles, including one sack. Adams finished the season with 10 1/2 sacks and 15 1/2 tackles for losses.

It helped Maryland post a 13-12 victory on a last-second field goal and a fourth straight victory since the Georgia Tech loss.

"I started to get confidence when we started to play in the ACC games," Heyer said. "I thought about what was ahead of me. I think going against Clemson was good. Their defensive end was NFL caliber. I got better in better condition by rehabilitation."

It has all given Heyer the chance to think about that dream world again.

He has taken some preliminary physical tests to offer to the NFL for the next draft. After the Champs Bowl, Heyer will hop a plane for Hawaii on Jan. 7 to practice and participate in the Hula Bowl, one of the college all-star games closely watched by the NFL.

Stephon Heyer has a chance to return to that dream in his final game as a Terrapin in the Champs Bowl. But this time, he realizes his character is a little different than it used to be.

"I'm like a used car," he said with a grin. "But I'm a used Cadillac."

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