All season, one question has constantly surrounded the Michigan football program: What happened to Steve Breaston?

Michigan Football
Steve Breaston ran back a punt 67 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. (TREVOR CAMPBELL/Daily)

Breaston — who thrilled Michigan Stadium with his big-play ability as a redshirt freshman in 2003 — had relatively disappeared from the Wolverine attack. But on Saturday, the sophomore wide receiver refreshed every fan’s memory in the fourth quarter with a 10-yard touchdown catch and a 67-yard punt return score in the span of just 35 seconds.

“Stevie B, he’s back,” freshman running back Mike Hart said. “He’s been a little hurt, but he’s back now.”

In his finest game of the season, Breaston compiled 54 yards on five catches, 32 yards on two rushes, 112 yards on four punt returns and 79 yards on three kick returns.

“He’s a playmaker,” senior receiver Jermaine Gonzales said following Michigan’s 42-20 win. “(When) Steve has the ball in his hands, you know something special’s going to happen. Today, he just displayed a lot of different ways what he can do when he has the ball.”

Prior to Saturday, Breaston — who earned a bevy of preseason accolades from multiple publications — had put together unexpectedly average numbers in 2004. In eight of Michigan’s first nine games (Breaston did not play against Indiana because of a broken finger), No. 15 had 22 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown. Breaston’s average of 6.7 yards per catch was very uncharacteristic of the shifty North Braddock, Pa., native. On punt return, where Breaston won over the hearts of Maize and Blue faithful last year, Breaston looked indecisive and averaged just 9.6 yards a pop.

A lot of the blame for Breaston’s lack of production was placed on his multiple injuries. Breaston had foot surgery in the offseason and suffered a broken finger in his left hand against Iowa.

“(Steve’s been) playing through injury all year, fighting through it,” Gonzales said.

Junior tight end Tim Massaquoi applauded Breaston for just staying on the field and maintaining a positive outlook.

“It’s amazing how he worked through (injury) and just kept on playing and kept on coming every day to practice,” Massaquoi said. “He never really was down. He was irritated by injury — he said it to me once. But he never really was down.”

Entering Saturday, Breaston felt as healthy as he has in a long time.

“I think going into the bye week and all last week during practice, I felt real good,” Breaston said. “I felt like I was getting back in shape and I felt that my foot was a whole lot better.

“I felt that I was getting my speed back.”

This renewed vigor really began to show in the third quarter. On Michigan’s first drive of the second half, Breaston took a reverse and scampered 20 yards to the Northwestern nine-yard line, setting up Hart’s second touchdown.

Breaston started Michigan’s next drive with a 39-yard punt return and helped end it by drawing attention from the Wildcats’ secondary. The Wolverines faced a third-and-four from the Northwestern 14-yard line. Breaston initially lined up at tailback, but then went in motion and stopped next to Jason Avant. The motion seemed to disturb Northwestern’s coverage scheme, and Michigan quarterback Chad Henne found Avant wide open in the corner of the endzone to put Michigan up 21-13.

“Right now, I’m just living through Jason and Braylon (Edwards), getting open and getting plays,” Breaston said. “I’m just doing my part.”

With just under nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, Henne hit Breaston on a corner route for a 10-yard touchdown. After Michigan stopped Northwestern, Breaston received Brian Huffman’s punt at the 33-yard line, burst through two defenders, headed to the Northwestern sideline and outran Huffman for his first special teams touchdown of 2004.

“It takes a while to get yourself back and get into the groove,” sophomore receiver Carl Tabb said. “And he certainly got himself into a zone. Once Steve’s into the zone, he’s hard to stop.”

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