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Hessler no longer quiet man of Towson's linebacking corps

Maybe it was the sight of an opponent from his home state of Pennsylvania. Or perhaps it was the miserable, rainy conditions that allowed him to thrive. Or maybe the stars were simply aligned.

Whatever the reason, Towson's Steve Hessler stepped out of the shadows and into the spotlight last Saturday against Lafayette.

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On a team on which his running mate at inside linebacker, Neal Regan, led the team in tackles last season and P.D. Moore, the strong-side linebacker, made the All-Patriot League team as a sophomore, Hessler is easy to overlook.

"Neal and P.D. get very noticed because of their presence and athleticism, respectively," said Tigers coach Gordy Combs. "But Steve is a very consistent backside linebacker. He has to do a lot of unsung things."

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It was impossible to overlook Hessler after the titanic game he had against the Leopards:

An interception that set up Towson's first touchdown; a stop of Leopards running back Joe McCourt on fourth-and-inches at the Towson 29 with 9:08 left; another pickoff with 2:03 remaining that clinched a 19-13 victory; a co-team-leading 11 tackles that vaulted him into the overall lead with 22; two pass breakups.

It was a showing that had everybody naming Hessler the Defensive Player of the Week, including the Patriot League.

"I don't look at it as being overlooked. I don't get as much recognition," said Hessler, a senior from New Cumberland, Pa., near Harrisburg. "I just didn't have the stats. But it doesn't bother me at all."

Not that Hessler hasn't had some high points previously. In his sophomore year - when injuries twice moved him into the starting lineup - he forced and recovered a fumble by Morgan State's Ali Culpepper in overtime that sealed a 20-17 Tigers win.

Last season, he returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown to put Towson on top of Bucknell for good.

But, for the most part, his career has been marked by quiet efficiency on defense and special teams.

"We don't have as much success recruiting in that area [central Pennsylvania] as in Jersey because of Lafayette, Lehigh and Bucknell nearby and a lot of the Pennsylvania Division II schools," said Combs.

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"We thought a lot of Steve because of his size [6 feet 1, 223 pounds], ability and range. He's not your typical inside linebacker. He's kind of a pretty boy ... well, stylish would be a better way to put it. He has worked extremely hard."

Hessler opted for Towson after visiting Pittsburgh, but receiving no offer. James Madison was also in the running.

"This looked like a great, family-oriented place," he said. "I liked the facilities and it was only a short hour away from home, which I like to be around.

"Now, with the new additions to the stadium, it's even better. No more trips up and down the steps to get to the locker room or waiting around in a small room to get to your locker. And naming it after Johnny Unitas was a great move. Somebody needed to do that."

Hessler was an all-around athlete at Cedar Cliff High School, in keeping with the family tradition. Sister Marjorie is a basketball player at Kutztown University. A cousin, Lisa Cicak, was on the women's basketball team at UMBC. Another cousin, Matt Fornadel, was a defensive lineman at Penn State.

A power forward in basketball despite his height, and a javelin and discus thrower and shot putter for the track team, he was always active. But football was clearly his future.

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"I liked both fullback and linebacker in high school. I liked catching the ball out in the flat. It crossed my mind about playing offense here, but I think linebacker suited me best," he said.

Durable and never seriously injured during his collegiate career, the football field has proven to be the right place for him.

Towson today

Matchup:Towson (2-1) vs. Yale (0-0)

Site:Yale Bowl, New Haven, Conn.

Time:1 p.m.

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TV/Radio:CN8/WTMD (89.7 FM)


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