Originally created 08/30/97

Steagall hopes senior year will be healthy



ATLANTA (AP) - Derrick Steagall came to Georgia Tech five years ago, a prize recruit who was considered by many the top high school player in the state.

The former Newnan High School quarterback, however, was plagued by injuries and has never reached his potential.

Now a senior after sitting out last season with a knee injury, Steagall is hoping to demonstrate his talents in his final season with the Yellow Jackets.

"It's very frustrating," said Steagall. "I came in wanting to accomplish a lot of things and I wasn't able to do that."

In his four years at Tech, Steagall, who switched to wide receiver and became an immediate starter as a freshman in 1993, managed to play in only 24 of a possible 44 games.

"I feel I can come back this year and show some of the fans what I can produce on the field," said Steagall, who has caught 67 passes for 1,104 yards and six TDs in his limited playing time.

"I just want to see the kid have a full year and just see what happens from there as far as productivity," said Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary.

"He's been unfortunate not to be able to fulfill that the last couple of years. That hurts, but I tell you I admire him for sticking it out. Mentally, he's been tough. So now you've got to hope that physically he can hang in there," he said.

Steagall, who reinjured his knee on the last day of spring practice this year and underwent arthroscopic surgery, is expected to be ready to start in Tech's opener Sept. 6 at Notre Dame.

Now 23, Steagall remained injury-free only during his freshman season, when he caught 24 passes for 385 yards and a touchdown in 10 games. He also returned punts and kickoffs.

Bigger things were expected for his sophomore season. He got off to a quick start, catching 16 passes for 223 yards and three TDS in four games. But in Game 5, his season came to an end when he broke his arm against North Carolina.

In 1995, he missed the first two games with a hamstring injury, but managed to catch 27 passes for 406 yards and a pair of TDs in nine games.

Steagall, a management major, isn't making any promises.

"My main goal is just to stay healthy. If I stay healthy, I'll be on the field and everything else will come," he said.

"If he's physically OK throughout the year, there's no question he'll be productive," said O'Leary. "He can do things that no other kids can."

One of those will be helping Tech's other wide receiver, senior Harvey Middleton, who with 113 catches needs only three catches to become the Yellow Jackets' career leader.

"He has that tremendous speed and will always be a deep threat, so teams won't be able to close the field down as much as they have when we just had Harvey and no other receivers with the speed that Derrick has," O'Leary said.

"With Derrick on one side and me on the other, they won't be able to double-team either one of us," Middleton said. "So it's got to take some of the pressure off me and help tremendously."