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Maryland's Tony Logan trying to follow in friend Kyle Wilson's footsteps

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 30, 2010; 1:02 PM

Tony Logan's first college touchdown has been celebrated as a breakthrough for a player slow to find a niche at Maryland. But Saturday's 85-yard punt return against Florida International represents something deeper to the fourth-year junior: a fitting nod to an idol whose footsteps have proven difficult for Logan to mimic.

"It makes it very unique, very special," Logan said.

Logan smiles at the mere mention of Kyle Wilson's name. Separated by 25 months and five miles as teenagers in central New Jersey, Logan, 20, and Wilson, 23, have been inseparable for two decades. Logan calls Wilson an older brother; Wilson lists Logan as a sibling on Facebook.

The T-shirt Logan wore around Maryland's campus Wednesday - gray, thin-striped and V-neck - is identical to the one Wilson wears around his Florham Park, N.J., residence when he is not on the field as a rookie cornerback and punt returner for the New York Jets.

The Wilsons and Logans are not blood related, but it's difficult to tell. Gerry Wilson and Robert Logan met years ago through youth sports, when sons Kyle and Tony still babbled two-syllable words. The bond: shared values about education and a passion for athletics. Wilson is the youngest of three boys, all of whom excelled in school and sports. Without an older sibling, Logan gravitated toward Wilson for a template on success.

Wilson ran track; Logan followed. Wilson played football; Logan followed. Wilson eventually got dreadlocks; Logan followed.

As a child, Logan rarely shopped for clothes but not because he was impoverished. He rummaged through Wilson's closet for jeans and a T-shirt, sometimes grabbing the Nike Air Max sneakers on his way out the door, copying Wilson's casual attire as closely as possible.

"I was little him," Logan said.

Wilson taught Logan self-discipline. At 10 years old, Logan slept over at Wilson's house, only to be summoned awake for pre-dawn workouts in Wilson's sprawling back yard. They took turns planting their feet in the short grass to run precise routes - the other tossing passes - while both remained cognizant of the location of the shed and long green fence because the sun had yet to fully rise.

Wilson taught Logan study habits. After school, Wilson pored over textbooks and finished all assignments before the two headed to the track to work on a speed drill they called "rabbit," during which Wilson gave Logan a 20-foot head start and then tried to tag him.

"He was always this perfect kid, like a Tim Tebow," Logan said. "I felt I had to live up to, not only my standards at home, but also his standards because he was the guy everyone expected me to be. I followed him everywhere. I wanted to do everything he did or do better than him."

'Just make it happen'

Logan remained competitive with his role model. If one scored 42 touchdowns in a youth football season, the other scored 44. They lived in the end zone, family members said. In high school, the 5-foot-10 Wilson played five positions but was lightly recruited and attended Boise State. The 5-10 Logan, who transferred to Wilson's Piscataway High as a sophomore, was a talented option quarterback recruited by several reputable schools.

College is where their journeys deviated. Wilson's career could not have been better scripted. He collected 10 tackles in Boise State's epic victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, 2007. Watching the game on television, Logan thought, "Man, I want to be playing as a redshirt freshman."

But at Maryland, Logan, an athletic wide receiver, could not parrot Wilson's success on the field because he couldn't get on the field. All the while, Wilson would tell Logan: "You're making too many excuses. Just make it happen on the field."

In 2008, Wilson thrived for Boise State, returning three punts for touchdowns in November alone. Logan struggled to make an impact at Maryland but offered a glimpse of his potential in a fitting setting: Boise, Idaho. Filling in for Danny Oquendo - one of seven Terrapins players suspended for part of the Humanitarian Bowl against Nevada - Logan saw his first action as the No. 1 punt returner on the same blue turf on which Wilson played.

Nervous during warmups, Logan calmed himself only when he spotted Wilson in the crowd and said to himself, "Oh, I'm going to be fine." He returned six punts for 49 yards. Playing on Wilson's field was Logan's "claim to fame," Robert Logan said.

'Electrifying'

Last season, Logan told Wilson that he would have more punt return yards than he had at Boise State, but success was sporadic. There were highs - a 43-yard punt return he took to the Clemson 1 - and lows - a fumbled punt in the final two minutes of a rain-soaked game at Duke. And there was frustration.

But Wilson never doubted his friend and encouraged Logan to maximize every opportunity. Finally, Logan verbalized questions about his role in an offseason meeting with Coach Ralph Friedgen. The 25-minute conversation spanned several topics, including Friedgen's expectation: Logan would be the ACC's best punt returner in 2010. Logan's confidence soared through the summer.

Teammates spotted him in the weight room and yelled, "You're the best punt returner in the country, lift like it!" Charles Bankins, the Terrapins' special teams coach, marveled at Logan's quickness when surrounded by opposing tacklers, saying "he can make people miss in a phone booth."

Wilson, meantime, offered advice on how to spot a weak link on an opponent's punt coverage team. Logan has also followed Wilson by creating his own Web site - complete with a P.O. box for fan mail - and Twitter account.

"Kyle shares with him what it takes to be where he is," said Wilson's father, Gerry. "Whether he can be where Kyle is, that is left to be seen. But he is doing everything possible to maximize his athletic potential."

Logan always craved Wilson's approval; now he feels he has earned it. Logan is three months away from earning his degree in communications, the same degree Wilson graduated with from Boise State. And on the field, Logan is thriving: He leads the ACC and ranks third nationally at 25.2 yards per return, and his season total of 327 yards in four games is already sixth on Maryland's all-time single-season list.

Early in the second quarter of Maryland's game Saturday against Florida International, Logan unleashed a dazzling 12-second run. He caught a punt at the 15, evaded the right hand of one defender, split two more who tripped over each other and then sprinted to the right of another two. By the time he reached midfield, Logan had accelerated, his legs a blur and the white towel hanging from his waist waving in the hot air. He turned back three times and couldn't believe no Florida International player was within 10 yards.

"Electrifying," defensive lineman A.J. Francis said.

Affirmation came in a wave. Teammate Torrey Smith, a second-team all-ACC kick returner last season, offered congratulations. Steve Suter, the last Maryland player to return a punt for a score in 2004, contacted Logan through Facebook. And James Rodgers, Oregon State's accomplished return man, reached out, as well.

In all, Logan received 40 text messages immediately after the game. The one that meant the most was the first to arrive, written by a man preparing to play an NFL game the next night in Miami.

"Congratulations, little bro, on your first touchdown," Wilson wrote. "I'm proud of you."

Flanked by his parents outside Byrd Stadium, Logan smiled.

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