Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Stecker Shock

Buccaneer RB Aaron Stecker has emerged as one of this season’s top performers in the NFL Europe League

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RB Aaron Stecker has powered the Scottish Claymores to a 2-1 record

Aaron Stecker has played in Macomb and Glasgow. He's traded in purple-and-gold for blue-silver-and-black. He has been both a Leatherneck and a Claymore, probably the first person ever to make that dual claim.

Doesn't matter. Stecker just keeps running.

Stecker is currently three games into the NFL Europe League's 2000 season, playing for the Scottish Claymores in Glasgow, and he's producing like he always has. The NFLEL is drawing increasing numbers of NFL-allocated players such as Stecker, but most of this year's focus was on the young quarterbacks headed overseas, thanks to former Europe standout Kurt Warner's breakthrough 1999 season. While hurlers like Atlanta's Tony Graziani and Cincinnati's Eric Kresser are indeed drawing attention on the continent, Stecker has crashed the party.

After three weeks, Stecker is the league's leading rusher, with 229 yards on 42 carries, averaging 5.2 yards per tote. He also paces the Claymores in receptions, with 13, and touchdowns, with three, and has impressed Scotland's coach, Jim Criner, with his innate talent. "Aaron has all the qualities that you need to win in the NFL," said Criner.

Stecker certainly proved he had the necessary tools to dominate on the college level, needing just two seasons to post a school-record 3,081 rushing yards at Western Illinois. The 5-10, 205-pound Stecker transferred to WIU in Macomb, Illinois after two seasons at Wisconsin. Though he was impressive as a freshman, gaining 334 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, Stecker lost significant playing time to Ron Dayne as a sophomore and could see coach Barry Alvarez' writing on the wall. He decided to become a Leatherneck to make sure he would stay on the field.

His participation in the NFL Europe League is a similar situation. Though not drafted after his outstanding two years at WIU, Stecker was signed by the Chicago Bears and brought to training camp. He didn't stick with the Bears' final roster, but was picked up by the Buccaneers midway through the 1999 season and added to Tampa Bay's practice squad. He performed well in practice, often imitating the Bucs' upcoming opponents, but wasn't required on an active roster that already included Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott.

So, when the 1999 campaign ended and spring rolled around, Stecker headed off to Europe, put the Claymores' sword-embossed jersey on his chest and just kept right on running. After snaring two touchdown catches against the Amsterdam Admirals to lead the Claymores to a 28-9 week two win, Stecker came back to post a 2000 NFLEL-high 127 yards on 15 carries versus Berlin this past weekend.

Stecker's participation in the NFLEL season, as Buccaneer Head Coach Tony Dungy mentioned last week, is a double-edged sword, in that valuable playing time gained is balanced by Tampa Bay practice time lost. Still, Dungy felt the positives of playing in Europe outweighed the negatives, and that might be particularly true in a situation like Stecker's. Upon returning to Tampa, Stecker will have to battle established NFL players Jerry Ellison and Rabih Abdullah for a spot on the eventual 53-man roster, but none of the three will see anywhere near as much action as Stecker is gaining in Europe. In effect, he is proving early that he is a legitimate candidate for the spot.

Stecker is one of six Bucs getting some springtime action on the field in Europe. In fact, when Stecker's Claymores suffered their first loss last weekend, it was at the hands of Tampa Bay QB Scott Milanovich. Scotland dropped a tight 24-20 decision to the Berlin Thunder, who turned to Milanovich in the second half after struggling behind Kresser. Milanovich completed five of eight passes for 63 yards and a touchdown. Milanovich's Thunder teammate and fellow Buccaneer, TE Jason Freeman, caught one pass for 25 yards.

Elsewhere on the Buccaneer front, LB Bobbie Howard turned in six tackles for the Frankfurt Galaxy, CB Deshone Mallard of the Rhein Fire tallied nine tackles and an additional stop on special teams and LB Shawn Stuckey contributed two special teams tackles for the Amsterdam Admirals.

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