Michigan punt returner and wide receiver Steve Breaston
dazzled fans with his slippery moves, fluid cuts and breathtaking
speed. But from where did this reserved, shy player arrive, and
where will he take the Michigan football program in years to
come?

Janna Hutz
Breaston was a force at quarterback for the Woodland Hills Wolverines. He is shown here against North Alleghany in the state semifinals. His team won, 27-3. (Courtesy of BRIAN STEVENSON)
Janna Hutz
(From left to right) David, Michael, Steve and Brian may not all have the same personalities, but whenever the Breaston brothers get together, it is always a contest to see who can get the last word over the other. (Courtesy of BRIAN STEVENSON)
Janna Hutz
Breaston took his first punt return back for a touchdown in the Indiana game this season. He would go on to take another one back for a score against Illinois and have a few punt returns for touchdowns called back because of penalties. (RYAN WEINER/Daily

Careful. If you’re not paying close
attention, he’ll slip right past you.

He certainly won’t announce his presence, so you better be
ready if he comes.

And even if you do see him, you might not notice him.

Let me give you a hint: He could be in his room playing
Playstation, in a corner writing poems, or somewhere on campus just
daydreaming.

Don’t bother trying to listen for him. He doesn’t
say much, and if he does, it won’t be that loud.

Michigan football’s newest sensation, 6-foot-1, 176-pound
Steve Breaston, has always been a quiet guy. But this quiet guy
made a lot of noise in the Big House this season, and he has barely
scratched the surface.

Breaston made the most impossible plays look dangerously
routine. Left, right, backwards, forwards, up or down, no matter
which way Breaston took the ball, the fans came to expect something
unbelievable. The redshirt freshman from North Braddock, Pa. never
seemed to take a wrong turn, and, if he did, he made up for it with
a couple more spontaneous turns that nobody, especially the
defenders, thought possible. In the blink of an eye, he would be
gone.

But Breaston’s ability to make 110,000-plus fans oooh and
ahhh in amazement as he leaves defenders in the dust with his
lightning-quick cuts and dazzling speed is not the most stunning
thing about him.

What’s surprising is the way he has chosen to express
himself. After all, it’s not every day that your star
football player does his talking through verse.

Of course, Breaston is not your everyday player. He’s
poetry in motion.

The written word

Breaston has always been very private with his writing, since he
writes mainly for himself.

In fact, if his advisor had never given head coach Lloyd Carr
the poem Breaston showed her for an assignment last fall, most
people would still be unaware of this talent.

If you talk to him, you would never guess what kind of talent he
displayed on the football field, either.

One of his poems was submitted for a Hopwood Award, one of the
most prestigious writing honors at the University.

Breaston says writing is something he’s always been
interested in, and since he daydreams a lot about life, he has a
lot to write down.

“Sometimes I sit back and think I’m someone else
when I write, not a student-athlete but just a normal
person,” Breaston said. “What would he be going
through? I think about what is going on back home.”

When he was younger, his daydreaming had his football coaches
wondering if Breaston was ever paying any attention to what they
were saying. They would go to his mother, Charlene Breaston, and
ask if her son was listening to them.

“Steven’s a thinker; he used to sit there and think
a lot,” Charlene said. “His coaches thought he was
listening to them, but he would be looking somewhere else. But then
he would go out and do the things they told him to do.”

Steve’s brother, David, wrote poetry, and he is the
brother Steve usually consults for advice or counseling on his
writing.

Steve has three brothers in all — Brian is the oldest,
followed by David, and then Michael.

“He’s been writing for a long time, at least since
junior high,” David said. “He used to write something,
and then throw it away. I encouraged him to start keeping it,
recording it in a journal somewhere. It might not be a big deal
now, but later on he might want to look at it.”

Breaston writes about anything that pops into his head. The
topic is usually something he’s been through in his life, or
something going on back home. David says Steve recently showed him
a poem he wrote about being interviewed.

“I told him how I thought it was an interesting
perspective,” David said. “He talks about how
he’s quiet and so it’s hard for him
sometimes.”

Other times, says David, Steve’s poems can be a little
over the top when talking about a more serious subject, such as his
friend’s death about a year ago.

“He tends to exaggerate in some parts more for the
effect,” David said.

Breaston hasn’t declared a concentration, but he says
he’s interested in creative writing.

Whenever Breaston gets that urge to write, he grabs a pen and a
piece of paper and starts putting words down.

But when Breaston feels that creative urge on a football field,
he doesn’t have a pen and paper. All he has are his Nike
cleats.

Fancy footwork

What is it that goes through Breaston’s mind when
he’s returning a punt that makes him so untouchable?

Basically nothing. Just like when he’s writing a poem, he
pauses, clears his mind and starts creating. But this time, he uses
his feet to create something special.

How would you know his mind is clear? One time, after returning
a punt for a touchdown in high school, Breaston returned to his
team’s bench and turned toward his teammates. To his
surprise, he noticed that his teammates were wearing their black
home jerseys.

“I told my friends that during the punt return, I thought
we had on the white away jerseys,” Breaston said.
“It’s kind of weird, you think about getting upfield,
and your mind just goes blank sometimes. You don’t realize
what you’ve done.”

The fact that he goes blank is probably why he doesn’t
acknowledge he’s done anything special.

He outran the entire Illinois punt-coverage unit, going east to
west across the field before turning north for the touchdown.
Breaston was asked if he thought he had made a good play.

“It was a play,” he said.

He was asked if he could describe the runback.

“It was a runback,” he said.

Yeah, and Michael Jordan was just “a basketball
player.”

Breaston says that running back a punt has more to do with
getting in the right state of mind than planning out all the
physical moves.

Former Michigan wide receiver and punt returner Desmond Howard
said after the Notre Dame game that Breaston would be successful
because of his instincts, a rare quality in a player. In that game,
Breaston ran a punt back to the 2-yard line before getting knocked
out of bounds.

Breaston has the ability to catch a punt, clear his mind and
find the opening. If he can’t find an opening, he makes
people run around after him for a while until he sees
something.

“Every time Steve steps on the field he amazes me,”
Michael said.

Said Brian: “I asked him once how he was able to split two
defenders when it seemed like there was no space, and he said,
‘I got skinny.’ Now, every time I see him running a
punt back, I always say, ‘Gotta get skinny.’

Of course, staying skinny wasn’t very hard growing up with
three brothers all above 250 pounds.

Books, then baseball

In the Breaston family, academics always came before sports.
Steve grew up under two parents and those three older brothers.
They all stressed the importance of doing well in school —
especially his mother.

“With all of my boys, I stressed academics first,”
said Charlene, who didn’t attend college because her mother
did not let the girls in the family go past high school.
“Sports always came second. If they didn’t do well in
school, they weren’t allowed to play. All of them (except
Steve) are college grads.

“They were good boys. We tried to teach them morals,
ethics and respect.”

Charlene wasn’t joking around about holding her boys out
of sports if they didn’t perform well. One year, she held
Michael out of baseball for a season after he didn’t bring
home good grades.

“Being the last one, he knew not to try Mama,”
Charlene said of Steve.

Steve began his childhood playing soccer, but he couldn’t
stick to just one sport for very long. Before he knew it, local
Midget Football League coaches began coming to his games and asking
about him.

“They started watching him and said he was
outstanding,” Charlene said. “He came to me one day and
said, ‘I want to play football.’ He was eight at the
time, and he excelled from there.”

Breaston played just running back in the midget leagues. He
never actually lined up as quarterback until he got to high
school.

He was small — much smaller than his brothers — and
his mother worried about him hurting himself.

“When he played Midget Football, I had to tape his pants
on. He was so small,” Charlene said. “I tried to feed
him more, thinking he wasn’t eating.”

But the youngest Breaston was just different than his brothers.
He got his size and speed from his father, who was a track star in
Ohio.

“My friends always ask me how Steve got so skinny and
fast,” said Brian. “I always tell them that when my
family all got together to eat, he had to be fast at the dinner
table or he wouldn’t get any food.”

Football became a big part of his life, but when he was young,
Steve’s true love was baseball. To him and his brothers, it
was more than a game.

“Growing up, a lot of people use (baseball) for fun and to
get away from some of the negative influences in the
community,” Breaston said. “I was a good hitter and
fielder, but things didn’t go my way when I got to high
school.”

Luckily for Breaston, he was a much better quarterback then
outfielder.

Ruling the school

Breaston burst onto the Michigan football scene this past
season, leaving many fans to wonder where this guy came from. But
he was hardly a secret weapon.

If you ask anyone from North Braddock, where Breaston played
football and ran track for the Woodland Hills Wolverines,
they’ll tell you that they always knew this kid would be a
star.

Whenever Greg Novak turned on a Michigan football game this
season and saw Breaston running circles around people, it was like
deja vu. Novak, Steve’s football coach at Woodland Hills,
made a 21-minute highlight video of Breaston’s high school
career, in which Breaston played quarterback, defensive back and
returned punts.

Even after four years of watching Breaston make defensive
players look silly, Novak still gets excited every time his former
star touches the ball.

Success in football came easy for Breaston. Although he was
hard-working, talent alone made him stand out above the rest.

In the first three games of his junior season, he played only
defensive back — he was the No. 2 quarterback behind senior
Adam Curry. The fourth game of the season, Woodland Hills fell
behind Central Catholic 23-7 in the first half. Novak brought in
Breaston to run the offense, and he exploded for 214 yards on 12
carries, leading Woodland Hills to a 37-29 comeback win. Breaston
became the No. 1 QB after that.

In his senior year alone, Breaston was involved in 33
touchdowns, either by running, passing or returning punts. His
average yards-per-score was more than 40.

But, Steve also enjoyed success outside the athletic realm.
Despite his quiet nature, he was a friendly guy who was well liked
by his classmates and friends. One year, he was named Homecoming
King.

“Everybody enjoys being around him,” Michael
Breaston said. “He’s humble, he gives credit to other
people — I think people like that a lot.”

Right now, a future in football beyond Michigan is looking very
promising.

The youngest Breaston has just about everything going for him
right now. The greatest mark of his success, though, could be that
if you take away football, he’ll still be successful because
of the foundation he has been given.

“I didn’t grow up in a bad neighborhood,” he
said. “I had two great parents and three older brothers that
kept my head right. They’ve been through a lot, and since
I’m the youngest, they do a good job of teaching me things.
Everything is a new experience.”

This is also true for Michigan fans. When Breaston is on the
field, everything is a new experience.

So keep your eyes and ears open, because you never know what
he’ll create next — with the pen, or with his feet.

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