- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

There are days when Maryland receiver Steve Suter’s surgically repaired knee bothers him. He feels older than 22. Creaky, achy.

But as Suter heads to practice, he looks at the Byrd Stadium mezzanine to see his name on the displays of All-Americans in Terrapins history. The walk to the field suddenly becomes pain-free.

“I glance at it if I’m having a bad day. It brightens me up,” Suter said. “I never thought my name would be on that stadium. That’s the biggest shocker. That’s always going to be there. There’s good company up there. Hopefully, I’ll do it again and have a dash with another year [on the sign].”

This is a farewell season for a player who seemingly has been Maryland’s star for more than two seasons. Since scoring four touchdowns on punt returns in 2002, Suter has been the Terps’ gamebreaker. That All-American campaign included two NCAA single-season records for punt returns (56) and kick returns (78), and he was only 20 yards short of the overall return yardage mark.

Knee problems limited Suter last year, when he passed up midseason surgery after deciding the struggling team needed him too much. Suter still flashed moments of brilliance with his 4.35-second speed for 40 yards. There was the 76-yard punt return for a touchdown against West Virginia in the Gator Bowl and a 75-yard score against The Citadel. He caught a career-high 29 passes, including one that was the No.1 Play of the Day on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” when he tipped a pass to himself in the Gator.

“If he’s right, we try to get the ball in his hands because he’s a playmaker,” coach Ralph Friedgen said.

The campus bookstore has rows of No.34 jerseys that will dot the Byrd Stadium stands when 22nd-ranked Maryland opens against Northern Illinois on Saturday night. Suter seems to be the favorite among jersey-clad youngsters. Suter wore Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders No.20 as a youth, and he can’t believe young fans now want to be him.

“It definitely is cool,” he said. “I never imagined it would come to that, especially as far as all the injuries go, that I would still be able to perform. It’s real flattering. I try to be a good role model for those kids who wear my jersey over all others.”

Senior seasons tend to be bittersweet for players who enjoy early success. When Suter arrived four years ago as an honorable mention All-American from Manchester, Md., it all seemed in front of him. Now some of his closest teammates — quarterback Scott McBrien and receivers Jafar Williams and Latrez Harrison — already have graduated.

“I definitely miss a lot of buddies, but there are some good guys in the group I’m with,” he said. “You stay in touch with old friends, but I’ve gotten close to Drew [Weatherly] and JoJo [Walker] and Derrick [Fenner] and all the receivers. It will be sad saying goodbye, but it will be fun to sit in the stands and watch them play. I’d love to tailgate and not worry about getting sick before the game [because of] eating too much food and getting stressed out.”

There’s still one more season, though. Maryland’s career punt leader needs just 84 yards to eclipse the ACC mark of 1,191 by N.C. State’s Ledel George and 508 to surpass Vanderbilt’s Lee Nalley’s 55-year-old NCAA record (1,615). His six punt return touchdowns are one short of the NCAA mark.

Suter also has team goals. The Terps have won an ACC championship and two bowl games during his tenure, but that’s not enough for him. Suter wants one more big-time year.

“I would just hate to leave on a bad note even though we’ve accomplished all those things,” he said. “I would like to repeat some of those instead of decline. I wouldn’t want to leave at .500 and not go to a major bowl, so major expectations are still high.”

And then there might be a shot at the NFL if his 5-foot-9, 194-pound frame can stand it. Suter doesn’t expect it, but he won’t dismiss the opportunity either.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it if the NFL presented itself,” Suter said. “I don’t know if my body would hold up, but I’ll check it out. Everybody says the [college] time flies by, but the years took a toll on me. Not so much in my heart but in my body. I’ve definitely aged.”

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