Move over Steve Francis. There’s a new Stevie Franchise, and he’s not shooting hoops.
Michigan punt returner Steve Breaston is just three games into his collegiate career, but he’s already creating a lot of excitement over his position – something that hasn’t been seen since the days of Heisman Trophy winners Charles Woodson in 1997 or Desmond Howard in the early 1990s.
“He’s a good return man, he has something you can’t coach, and that’s the instincts to take it right up the middle north to south,” said Howard, who witnessed Breaston firsthand.
While it is too early to even begin to mention Breaston’s name following “Heisman contenders,” his attack-first, get-tackled-later approach to returning punts provided the spark for Michigan on Saturday that was needed to get on the board first.
After a defensive stop deep in Notre Dame territory with just over seven minutes left in the first quarter, punter Nick Setta bombed one to Michigan’s 44-yard line, where Breaston did a 360 in order to control the punt. His spin, though, seemed to just propel him through his blocker’s hole faster. He was barely stopped at the 2-yard line.
“It was exciting being out there,” said the soft-spoken and very modest Breaston. “I saw good blocking, hit holes and made a play. When they block like that, I have to finish the job.”
That first-quarter return set up Michigan’s offense for its first touchdown after being stopped on the two opening drives.
“It was a great motivator to see him go out there and run it to the two,” said Michigan running back Chris Perry – who punched in Breaston’s setup for the six. “He’s a very talented person. Whenever you have a punt returner who can break one on any play, it’s a plus.”
Breaston’s magic continued on his next two punt returns. He gave Michigan the ball on its own 47 and 46 yard lines. Even when Setta tried to punt away from Breaston, it either resulted in a short punt out of bounds, or his speed tracked the ball. Michigan punter/kicker Adam Finley stated that Breaston was making his job easier, as his returns took Michigan out of punting situations in case the offense went three-and-out.
Because of missing a practice earlier in the week, Breaston was limited to just punt returns instead of receiving and returning – as he normally does.
“I heard he’s going to be a very good receiver also, so he might have to do double duty,” Howard said. “I enjoyed doing it when I was here, and I think that may be in his future.”
Who’s kicking who?: After a supposedly good week against Houston, Michigan freshman kicker Garrett Rivas – 2-for-3 on field goals against the Cougars – found himself on the sideline throughout the contest against the Irish.
Finley handled all field-goal and extra-point attempts for the game.
“Garrett didn’t (have a good week of practice),” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said.
Carr said he started Finley because he had a solid week in practice and was an Indiana boy overlooked by Notre Dame in favor of Setta coming out of high school.
Rivas and Finley were ultimately surprised by the decision, though, as Rivas thought he had the starting job up until game time.
“It was more of a yesterday (Friday) and today (Saturday) thing,” Finley said of the decision.