Former Maryland wide receiver and return specialist Steve Suter, who will call games alongside Johnny Holliday on the Maryland Sports Radio Network this fall, recently reminisced about how he ended up at Maryland as a recruit, how the Terps turned it around in the early 2000s under Ralph Friedgen and his memories from the Gator Bowl in January 2004.
The 5-foot-9, 194-pound Suter played for Maryland from 2001-2004, posting 1,044 yards and three touchdowns as a receiver, 1,271 yards and six touchdowns as a punt returner and 1,259 yards as a kick returner. He is seventh all time in program history in all-purpose yards (3,687).
His biggest day as a Terp came against West Virginia at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., on Jan. 1, 2004, when he returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown and caught four passes for 84 yards.
“I never get tired talking about it or hearing stories about that game, for sure,” Suter said on Glenn Clark Radio Aug. 17. “It’s one of the fonder memories that I have at Maryland, being with the team.”
Suter said he drove down to Jacksonville with quarterbacks Scott McBrien and Chris Kelley because players had the option of taking a chartered flight down or pocketing the travel expenses and finding their own way down. Suter, McBrien and Kelley opted to drive down in three-hour shifts.
Maryland beat West Virginia, 41-7, marking the second time the Terps beat the Mountaineers during the 2003 season. In addition to the punt return, Suter had a memorable catch as well. With Maryland up, 24-0, in the third quarter and the ball at about midfield, McBrien targeted Suter downfield. With West Virginia defensive back Lance Frazier draped all over him, Suter tipped the ball in the air with his left hand at about the 13-yard line and grabbed it with his right hand at about the 8-yard line.
“I really wasn’t trying to catch it at that point,” Suter said. “I thought that Lance Frazier, who was defending me, had better position and I just had to do my hardest to bat it down. I couldn’t get up high enough to bat it down, so there it was still floating in the air, and I said, ‘Well, might as well catch it now.’ So that’s how it worked out.”
But Suter could have very easily been returning punts and making highlight-reel grabs for another school. He spent his high school days in the late ’90s at North Carroll in Hampstead, Md., typically not a popular recruiting stop for Power Five schools. But Suter still had a chance to catch the eye of Terps coaches at a workout (40-yard dash, vertical leap and bench press) for the state’s high school juniors in College Park.
Suter caught a break prior to the workout. Scott Chadwick, now the director of recruiting operations at Maryland, was an assistant coach at North Carroll before becoming Bowie High School’s head coach after Suter’s sophomore year. Chadwick crossed paths with Maryland’s coaches a lot more at Bowie. He told Michael Locksley, then the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator, to keep an eye on Suter.
“He knew Mike Locksley personally at that point and gave him a call and said, ‘Hey, I know there’s a kid that’s going to be coming up on campus and you’re going to want to watch him run.’ Basically, just trust me,” Suter said. “Locksley made his way to the field, hand-timed me and I think I ran a 4.38 or something in that nature. He looked at me and told me to do it again. I ran another 4.3 and some change. I did have the highest vertical leap of all the kids there. So of the 500 kids, I tested well.”
At that point, Terps coaches wanted to see more from Suter.
“They asked me to send them a highlight tape,” Suter said. “My response was, ‘Well, I sent you guys one six months ago. Why don’t you go find that closet you just threw it in?’ They did that. They went back and found my tape, put it in, watched it. That was really it. That’s what started the recruiting process for me.”
After the workout, Suter received offers from Buffalo, Temple and Richmond. But his dream school was Maryland, and he was eventually offered by Terps head coach Ron Vanderlinden.
“I can vividly remember I’m lying in my best friend’s front yard,” Suter said, recalling the moment he got the news of the offer. “We’ve got lawn chairs out. We’ve got our shirts off. We’re trying to tan because we’re getting ready to go down to beach week and my dad pulls up in the car and his words were, ‘Son, you don’t need to tan anymore. You’ve got a scholarship to go to Maryland.’ I was like, ‘What?’ Ron had just called him. He had just gotten off the phone with him.”
Suter served a redshirt year as a freshman in 2000, when the Terps went 5-6. Vanderlinden was fired after that season, but he left new head coach Ralph Friedgen plenty of talent to work with. Suter rattled off some of the names on the 2000 team: Curome Cox, Shawn Forte, Shaun Hill, E.J. Henderson, Tony Jackson, LaMont Jordan and Tony Okanlawon, for starters. Cox, Hill, Henderson, Jordan and Okanlawon played for Maryland in 2001 as well.
Suter said the 2000 team “had talent all across the board, but for whatever reason it didn’t mesh up with the coaching staff.” The Terps ended up going 31-8 under Friedgen the next three years, including trips to the Orange, Peach and Gator Bowls. There was a sense of urgency heading into the Friedgen era, according to Suter.
“You match us with a guy [in Friedgen] that is supposed to be head-over-heels smarter than everybody on offense, and then we look around the locker room and we’ve got a Heisman Trophy candidate at running back, we’ve got a quarterback we believe in, we’ve got receivers that can play, linemen that are going to go to the league,” Suter said. “So we’re thinking, ‘If it’s not now, it’s never.’ I think that mindset meshed well with the coaching staff that he brought in.”
To hear more from Suter, including his thoughts on this year’s Terps team, listen here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics