Sophomore Steptoe's heart, ability, much larger than 5-foot-9 frame
If it's said that a person's heart is about the size of a fist, then it's no wonder Syndric Steptoe is snatching every pass in his direction for the Arizona football team.
His teammates know the sophomore receiver has a huge heart, so if there is a correlation between the two, then it's possible Steptoe has the largest hands on the team as well.
"He's the shortest receiver we've got, but he's got a big heart. You can see by the way he plays," said senior receiver Ricky Williams.
Through the Wildcats' first four games this season, Steptoe leads Arizona in receptions (12), receiving yards (222), all-purpose yards (362) and touchdowns (3).
The Bryan, Texas native's most impressive score of the season came in Arizona's Sept. 25 game against Washington State.
With the Wildcats trailing 7-0 early in the second quarter, sophomore quarterback Kris Heavner avoided a Cougar rush and saw Steptoe had WSU defender Karl Paymah beat deep. Heavner threw the ball nearly 50 yards in the air, but the pass was still a bit under-thrown. The 6-foot Paymah had inside position on the 5-foot-9 Steptoe, and it appeared the pass could be intercepted. Steptoe out-leaped the Cougar cornerback, kept his feet and managed to sneak into the end zone for the Wildcats' first points of the day on a 47-yard touchdown strike.
The catch and touchdown might have been viewed as an impressive play by anyone outside the team, but the Wildcats have come to expect it from the former high school basketball player.
"I just have the mindset that when the ball is in the air, the ball is mine," Steptoe said. "You've got to have confidence, know you're going to make the catch every play."
"It wasn't a surprise," said Williams of the jump ball catch. "He comes out here and does it in practice. Everyday he'll do something to get the crowd or his teammates excited. Wow, he's only 5-foot-7 and he can play. If he's even 5-foot-7."
Steptoe is actually listed at 5-foot-9, but his height is just another way Williams can give him a hard time.
"We tease him every day, but it doesn't bother him," Williams said. "He's got the biggest heart of anyone I know. He doesn't pay any attention. He'll just make jokes about us, it goes back and forth."
Steptoe said he uses the remarks to fuel him and prove he can compete with anyone, no matter how much taller.
"I just go out there and play with heart. That's all you can do," he said. "I love the game of football, so you've gotta go out there and have fun. You've gotta make something happen."
So far, he has been making things happen for the Arizona offense. In the Washington State game, Steptoe had a career-high six catches for 102 yards and two scores, including a clean corner route with less than four minutes left that put Arizona up 19-14.
"We can't help but admire the way he's playing," Williams said. "He's stepping up his game and it's just fun to watch him play."
Besides leading the team in receiving, Steptoe is an integral part of the Wildcats' special teams. He's Arizona's kickoff return man, averaging close to 20 yards per return, and he has been close to breaking a few long returns.
With the kicking team having 50 yards to sprint downfield before going head on with a returning running at full speed, it's no wonder Steptoe is back there for the Wildcats.
Special teams coordinator Joe Robinson said a lot goes into being the team's kickoff return man.
"You've gotta be fearless. You gotta have a lot of guts, a lot of courage and have the ability. You've gotta see the whole field ," he said. "(Steptoe's) really quick and he's got great speed. He gives us a lot of confidence."