UM's Steffy gives his all

Finally named starter, Terps quarterback already has won plenty of fans back home

August 25, 2007|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun reporter

Lancaster, Pa. -- Tucked inside a metal storage cabinet, which is locked in the football equipment room of Conestoga Valley High, is a tattered, white No. 19 jersey. The right shoulder is slightly torn, and dirt and grass have stained the old high school uniform of Maryland's new starting quarterback, Jordan Steffy.

A few miles away, in a popular downtown barber shop, a similar jersey has been slipped over a set of shoulder pads for display.

The one that might have the most meaning in this small town, though, is stashed away in a 13-year-old girl's bedroom closet. Steffy gave his golden Maryland practice jersey to Katie Hull, who routinely parked her wheelchair at the gate of the high school field where Steffy would greet her with a hug and a smile - win or lose. Hull has cerebral palsy, but mention Steffy's name, and she lights up like the luckiest girl in the world.

Hull is just one of many to witness his generosity.

While Steffy, a junior, has earned a reputation for his goodwill off the field, his career at Maryland remains unproven. Even though he was named the Terps' starting quarterback yesterday, the season opener next Saturday will be his first career start, as his progress was stalled by numerous injuries.

In an eight-month span during his freshman year at Maryland, Steffy endured a concussion, had surgeries on his knee and biceps, and survived being struck by a car. He insists he is finally prepared to lead Maryland's offense, but regardless of how Steffy fares on the field this season, there is a community that already considers him a success.

"For [Katie] to meet Jordan - with the athlete he is and now being the quarterback for Maryland - the girl's in her glory," Katie's mother, Sherri, said. "But even if he wasn't, he would still be No. 1 to us. Right, Katie?"

"Yeah," she said, an irrepressible smile spreading across her face.

Winning mind games

Faith, family, football and charity work have defined Steffy over the years. There were high expectations for him coming out of high school, and many - including Steffy - thought he would play sooner at Maryland. Only this past spring, though, did he rise to the top of the depth chart and above the hype surrounding Josh Portis, the speedy Florida transfer.

"You talk about kids maturing, he came in like a lot of kids - very highly touted, thought he had all the answers, and all of a sudden it just doesn't work out that way," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said.

"You have to be thick-skinned," he said. "A lot of times you get too much credit, and sometimes you get too much blame. It just comes with the position. You have to be mentally tough in order to deal with that. I think for the most part, he is."

Steffy said the key to his success this season is winning the psychological games, first.

"I learned that the biggest thing is the inner belief," he said. "Somebody said, `What if Coach Friedgen says you choked?' Well, he's said that before. I can't count on both of my hands how many times Coach Friedgen told [former quarterback] Sam [Hollenbach] that in games. That's just the type of person he is. The biggest thing I've learned is to continue fighting."

Showing the doubters

Mixed among the awards, trophies and pictures that clutter Shari Steffy-Long's living room shelves is a scrapbook of her son's high school football career. Michele Witherow, who began cheering for Steffy when he was a midget football player and she was a midget cheerleader, crafted it for him their senior year.

Witherow is now a senior cheerleader at Maryland, and is ecstatic about the chance to be on the sidelines again with her good friend.

"I couldn't be more proud," said Witherow, who sat next to Steffy at their high school graduation, along with Ashley Miller, now a senior on Maryland's competitive cheer team. "I know how hard he's worked. He's never given up on himself. ... He was the same way in high school.

"A lot of people doubted him. He took over as a freshman and took over for one of our older quarterbacks. ... He never looked back. He helped us to our district title game his freshman year. I'm excited to see him get the chance to prove everyone wrong again."

After switching from wide receiver to quarterback midway through his freshman year, Steffy went on to complete 60.7 percent of his passes for 5,587 yards and 51 touchdowns at Conestoga Valley.

"He was a great player in high school, probably one of the best to come out of our area," said Maryland wide receiver Stephen Smalls, who also played with Steffy in high school. "The seats were packed almost every game."

On Friday nights in Witmer, crowds often swelled to 7,000 to see Steffy play, head coach Gerad Novak said.

"He had a goal in mind to play Division I football probably when he was in eighth grade," Novak said. "His focus was always to get to that point."

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