Matt Steeple thought his freshman season of college football had been a good one. Five months past his 18th birthday and three months removed from Northern High, Steeple moved into the Morgan State lineup as a defensive tackle and was that unit's second-most effective lineman.
Twenty-four tackles -- including four sacks -- and 28 assists weren't too shabby for a kid who in normal circumstances would have been easing his way into college. He was doubly effective in last Saturday's season-opening 26-7 loss to North Carolina A&T, getting nine tackles.
The flip side is that Steeple made his niche on a 1-10 team that allowed more than 41 points a game before a season-ending 2-0 victory over Cheyney State. For all his size (6 feet 3, 286 pounds), and potential, there were flaws in Steeple's game, ones that were quickly pointed out when Ricky Diggs took over as coach at Morgan State last spring.
Assistant head coach L.C. Cole, who is in charge of the Golden Bears' defense, said of Steeple: "He still has something to prove to me. I want him to lose some weight."
Defensive line coach Bubba Green said: "The toughest thing for a big man is to learn to stay low, and that's Matt's biggest shortcoming."
If Steeple pleases his coaches, then he has a shot at realizing the NFL career he talked about as a freshman. Last season was only his fifth in organized football, and this is the second crash course he's getting.
There wasn't all that much to criticize in his prep days.
In 1989, Steeple was a first-team All-Metro selection of The Evening Sun as a defensive lineman. He was also Northern's heavyweight wrestler, finishing third in the Maryland Scholastic Association tournament. In the spring of 1990, he was the area's biggest lacrosse attackman, finishing a four-year stick career with 98 goals.
Football remained his priority. During Steeple's senior year at Northern, Morgan State went 4-6-1 -- a successful season by its ** recent standards. He saw an improving program close to home, one in which he could play right away. He admits, however, that he wasn't prepared to play at the Division I-AA level.
"In high school, I was bigger than everyone else, and I didn't always have to stay low to play well," Steeple said. "My major problem last year was that I rose up when a play started, something I could get away with in high school, where I was bigger than everyone else. Now, I've learned that you maintain more leverage when you stay low."
Steeple weighed 286 pounds on the first day of camp last month. For last week's opener, he was closer to the 265 that has been prescribed for him. While pounds are the subject, it's worth mentioning his bench press of 345. It's OK, but nothing special for a player his size.
"Being told I have to do more isn't hard to accept," Steeple said. "This coaching staff does things differently, and I don't mind them pushing me. I'll play hard just to get them off my back."