tampabay.com

Lineman's debut is bittersweet

By FRANK PASTOR
Published March 14, 2005


TAMPA - Storm offensive/defensive lineman Darion Conner is no rookie, but the seventh-year player admitted to feeling butterflies before Sunday's game.

Nine months after his last game, a playoff loss to San Jose in June, Conner made his season debut against Arizona.

A court order prohibits Conner from traveling while he faces a DUI-manslaughter charge. He was inactive for the season opener and not on the roster for the previous four games. He found out Friday he'd be activated in place of Mike Lawson , who was placed on injured reserve.

"It kind of surprised me," Conner said. "I came in, looked at it, "Okay, it's a home game, I've got to go down and play some ball,' so I was kind of excited."

Conner made an ankle tackle on Evan Hlavacek during a first-quarter kick return and hurried Arizona quarterback Sherdrick Bonner into an incompletion a few plays later. He also was credited with a pass breakup.

In October, Conner was arrested and charged. Police said his sport utility vehicle struck and killed Carrollwood bicyclist Jonathan Michael Conklin in September.

Conner is under house arrest and only permitted to play in home games.

"It's hard, because you want to be out there after the game with a big win and everybody's celebrating and you're like, "I've got to go home and do this,"' Conner said. "I miss it a little bit, but as long as we keep winning ... just being able to be a part of it, that's close enough for me."

TWO-WAY THREAT: Receiver/defensive back Anthony Derricks was named ironman of the game after returning three kickoffs for 96 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown, and making three tackles and an interception on defense.

"It was just meant for me, I guess," Derricks said. "(Bonner) threw the pick to me, and guys blocked for me on the kickoff return. I think I had to make one guy miss. Other than that, it was there for me."

Derricks was flagged for taunting after he pointed at kicker Steve McLaughlin at the end of the touchdown return.

"That was the first time doing that since my rookie year," Derricks said. "I've just got to be more professional getting into the end zone and act like I've been there."

MOVING ON UP: Receiver/linebacker David Saunders tied a career high with three touchdown catches, giving him 37 for his career. He moved past James Bowden into fifth on the team's all-time list.

TWO DOWN: Receiver/linebacker Lawrence Samuels fell back over umpire Rick Nelson on Siaha Burley 's 9-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. Both appeared shaken up but stayed in the game.

STORM FLURRIES: Quarterback Shane Stafford , who improved his touchdown-to-interception ratio to 36-to-1, was offensive player of the game. Defensive specialist Tramain Jones was defensive player of the game after making four tackles and breaking up three passes. ... Receiver/defensive back Kenny Christian was inactive.