- The Washington Times - Friday, October 8, 2004

Maryland’s Steve Suter will break the ACC’s career punt return yardage record tomorrow against Georgia Tech if the Yellow Jackets kick to him. So far, few opponents have tested the two-time All-ACC returner.

Suter has just seven punt and three kick returns for the No.23 Terrapins (3-1, 1-0 ACC). Twelve opposing punts went out of bounds, including four by West Virginia. Typically, opponents give Suter his best chance on the first punt. but Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen called any returnable punt “a mistake.”

Said Suter: “It’s frustrating, but as long as you keep looking at the stats on field position we’re netting on returns, they can keep kicking out of bounds all they want, because they’re messing up.”

Suter needs four yards to eclipse Ledel George, who had 1,191 return yards from 1990 to ‘93 at N.C. State, as the ACC leader. Suter is averaging 15.3 yards a touch when receptions are included. The senior has become the offensive leader and mentor for sophomore quarterback Joel Statham. Not bad for someone whose aching knees foretell rain and limit him to two practices a week.

“I never would have guessed I would do something like this,” he said. “I’ll have some emotions running through me if [the record] goes down on Saturday. It would mean a lot just to realize I accomplished something a lot of people tried to do. I excelled more than they did.”

Opponents are netting just 32.6 yards a punt. They’d rather kick short out of bounds than put anything near him. After all, Suter never has signaled for a fair catch.

“I don’t know if the situation has arrived where I felt like I had to,” he said. “Hopefully, I won’t have to. I always felt if I could fall forward that’s one yard more than we had. As long as I don’t turn the ball over, they can hit me.”

Said Friedgen: “It’s amazing the field position you gain just by having his presence, because they try to kick away from him and the punt goes 25 yards, so we probably gain 15 to 20 yards, which is just as good as a punt return.”

Suter’s opportunities don’t figure to increase over coming weeks. A 48-yard kickoff return against Duke on Sept.25 showed he hasn’t lost his speed.

“[Opponents are] teasing him a little bit and he’s ramming it down their throat and they get scared,” said Terps punter Adam Podlesh. “I would be very apprehensive to punt to him because he can do magic with the ball.”

Statham’s safe

Friedgen is so unhappy over fan impatience with Statham that the quarterback is urged not to read Web sites cluttered with criticism. Statham also is off limits to the media as Friedgen seeks to isolate him.

“Joel probably reads everything and is a little sensitive,” Friedgen said. “I told him one of the key ingredients is being mentally tough and physically tough. Mentally tough is also dealing with criticism. You can’t let that bother you. That’s a learning process, too. Once you get the confidence and believe in yourself, then it’s a lot easier to handle other people’s criticism.”

Friedgen denied being unhappy with Statham despite his seven interceptions and eight fumbles. Statham leads the ACC in passing per game (226.8 yards) and total offense (248.8) and is second in passing efficiency (140.7).

“I’m not disappointed in him at all,” Friedgen said. “Joel’s leading the conference in total offense, he’s second in passing efficiency and everybody’s slamming this guy. What’s he got to do? We’re 3-1 and lost by three points in overtime to the No.6 team [West Virginia] in the country. For a kid that has played four games, I think he’s done a pretty good job. I’ll let you know when I’m unhappy with him.

“I think the ball’s going to the right place. I think he’s making some really good plays. The problem is he’s a young quarterback, and some of those bad plays he has to learn to eliminate. When that happens, we’ll have a heck of a quarterback. Until that happens, we’ll have to just hope we can win some games when he makes those mistakes.”

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