A class act, on and off the field; Football: North Carroll running back Steve Suter, who is Maryland-bound, is getting attention from opposing defenses and admiring youngsters.; High schools


It's not uncommon for professional and even college athletes to have fans clamor for autographs. But a high school football player?

Such is the case of North Carroll's Steve Suter.

The senior running back, who teaches a physical education class at North Carroll Middle School, was relaxing as some of his students were getting their school pictures taken a couple months ago.

"Then one kid asked for an autograph. Forty other kids followed," Suter recalled. "It's very flattering."

Seventh graders aren't the only ones paying attention to Suter. So are opposing defenses responsible for stopping a player who has already gained 1,244 yards on the ground and 13 touchdowns in seven games for the Panthers (2-5).

It is believed that Suter, who has verbally committed to playing at Maryland next fall, is the first Panthers player to receive a four-year scholarship to play at a Division I school.

Teams that have played North Carroll are aware of Suter on every down.

"You can hear the defensive guys yelling and pointing at Steve before every play," Panthers coach Bill Rumbaugh said. "He's taking a real beating, but I've never heard him complain once."

Whining -- and chest-beating, for that matter -- are not elements of Suter's style. The youngest of George and Lynn Suter's two children, Steve Suter began playing football for the Hampstead Recreation Council when he was 8.

John Etzel discovered Suter while observing a Little League baseball game Suter was playing in.

"I didn't know who he was, but I noticed that when he ran the bases, he ran them faster than the other kids," Etzel recalled. "You could tell that he was a gifted athlete even then."

After Etzel persuaded Lynn Suter to allow her only son to play football, Etzel decided to use Steve Suter in the backfield as the third running back.

That decision proved fateful as Suter gained nearly 4,000 yards in five seasons with Etzel as his head coach.

But Suter's diminutive size as a freshman -- he weighed 126 pounds -- prevented him from playing on North Carroll's varsity squad. After a mediocre freshman season, Suter dedicated himself to adding muscle to his frame, moving up to 145 pounds in his sophomore year and 180 pounds now.

As his bulk increased, so did Suter's personal statistics. He rushed for 738 yards and gained 430 receiving yards as a sophomore. Last year, he ran for 1,534 yards.

Suter, who ran a 4.8 40-yard dash as a 12-year-old and now runs a 4.3, credits the increase in speed to many nights at the local gym and a sense of determination.

"It's a little thing all running backs have: We don't want to get tackled," he said. "If you keep running hard, the defense will tire, and you're going to get your big runs."

Rumbaugh says Suter, who tries to model himself after former Detroit Lions superstar Barry Sanders, can use power or finesse to gain yardage.

"He also has the ability to run over somebody if he needs to," Rumbaugh said. "He also has this tremendous ability to change direction almost on the dime."

A case in point: In a 1997 game against Hereford, Rumbaugh called an option play designed to give Suter the ball.

"But the quarterback pitched the ball behind him, and Steve slipped and fell. But he got up, picked the ball up, ran against the grain and scored from 45 yards out," Rumbaugh recalled. "I have never seen a sophomore do that."

South Carroll coach Gene Brown calls Suter, who also is a defensive back, "electrifying."

"You watch that team play, and he plays defense, handles kickoffs, punts, returns kicks," Brown said. "He's on the field most of the game. That's hard to do at this level."

Suter, who scored 1,060 on the SATs and has a 3.7 grade-point average, had several scholarship offers, but he chose Maryland, which made its offer last June.

"That's a dream come true," said Suter, who committed to the Terps on June 27, a day after his 17th birthday. "Ever since I've played for the rec council, I've wanted to play in college."

Suter, who has been told by Maryland coaches that he will have a shot to play running back, could finish with slightly under 2,000 rushing yards if he continues to average more than 192 yards a game.

"As long as I surpass what I did last year, I'll be satisfied," he said.

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