He can no longer sit Indian-style. He only can practice two days a week. And when he wakes up in the morning with a familiar aching in his knee, he doesn't have to look out the window to know it's about to rain.
At 22, Steve Suter is a bit of a battered man, the result of four knee surgeries that may have robbed him of some speed. It doesn't matter, he says. The senior remains one of the most feared punt returners in the ACC.
If Suter gains four yards on a punt return Saturday against Georgia Tech, he'll break the ACC's career punt return yardage mark set by North Carolina State's Ledel George (1,191 from 1990 to '93).
"I never thought I would be knocking on the door of a record like this," Suter said.
Suter's average of 8.9 yards per punt return this season ranks seventh in the conference and 64th nationally. Yet there remains a distinct fear factor: Teams seldom kick in his direction.
Suter not only is dangerous in the open field -- he needs one punt return for a touchdown to tie the NCAA career record -- but he gives Maryland an advantage any time the ball is punted in his territory. He has never made a fair catch and has some disdain for the habit.
"I always felt that if I can just catch the ball and fall forward, then that's one yard," Suter said. "You never know how much that is going to mean."
Suter, who graduated last semester with a 3.3 grade-point average and a degree in criminal justice, practices only Tuesdays and Wednesdays to maintain the condition of his knees, which have each undergone two surgeries. Suter said there is no more cartilage in his left knee, which creates a bone-on-bone sensation.
"I don't think I would have made it if they had me grinding it out every day," Suter said of his truncated practice routine.
Suter acknowledged that he occasionally is frustrated that teams choose to punt away from him, as West Virginia Coach Rich Rodriguez pledged to do in the Maryland game three weeks ago.
"I'm happy that they are showing that they think I can hurt them," Suter said. "But I'm still a competitor."
Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen said Saturday's game against Georgia Tech (2-2) is pivotal as the 23rd-ranked Terps look for their second ACC win. But the game has extra meaning for Friedgen, who spent nine years at Georgia Tech as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, serving from 1987 to '91 under Bobby Ross and from 1997 to 2000 under George O'Leary.
"I'll have friends there for the rest of my life," said Friedgen, who maintains a home in Georgia. "I have a lot more Georgia friends now. I probably have more friends than when I was at Georgia Tech. But I understand. They're going to pull for Georgia Tech one day of the year, and I think they root for me the rest. Georgia Tech will always be a special place for me. But, when we play on Saturdays, I'm a Terp."
Friedgen said playing Georgia Tech for the fourth time since he left doesn't have the same meaning because a lot of the Georgia Tech players are new. But Maryland players said they believe the game still has special importance.
"We don't really worry about that," Suter said. "We feel he does, though. We feel this is one he really wants to get."
Defensive end Shawne Merriman entered Maryland's cafeteria yesterday wearing the only throwback jersey he owns, a bright yellow Trent Dilfer Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey. "I'm wearing it for Joel" Statham, Merriman said, "to give him some inspiration for the week." . . .
Maryland defensive end Kevin Eli (concussion) is questionable. Georgia Tech running back P.J. Daniels, who led the ACC in rushing in 2003, missed Saturday's 27-3 loss to Miami because of bruised quadriceps but is probable for the Maryland game. . . .
Both teams have made their starting quarterbacks off-limits to the media this week.