They are lounging around; wiry young men, most of them with mustaches too big for their faces and too small for their smiles. There is some kind of family talk going on, joking and elbow-digging and laughing.

Their names are Rodent and Hynie Ho and Rocky and Will Daddy and Wack Ball and Mantis and Snuffy and Teek.

Sound like the Dead End Kids? Well, yes and no. They are the No. 1 ranked Maryland lacrosse team led by Budman (also known as head coach Bud Beardmore). They are 3-0 and already talking championship.

Now the lounging around is over and these men - tall and short, fat and thin, all wearing red practice suits - pour out of the locker room and onto the Byrd Stadium field for two hours of what some athletes might call practice. Calisthenics are brief; they are finished before the six-foot nets are secured in the ground. Then the fun begins.

Because, as they all will tell you - Moogs and Shoes and Bird - lacrosse in some kind of fun sport. "Much more fun than in football," said tricaptain goalie Jake Reed who was all American last year when Maryland finished second to Cornell in an overtime thriller for the NCAA championship. "In football, all you do is drills, but our practices are fun. It's like playing catch."

Well, not quite. Watching lacrosse one does not think of playing catch. It looks, to an outsider, like a group of men trying to peel a grape with sawed-off brooms. Except for the goalie, who is busy trying to escape being zonked by an 8-inch, 4-ounce, India rubber ball traveling 120 miles an hour.

Reed, like the other two Terp goalies, shuns protective leg and chest padding. The only thing between him and false teeth is a white plastic helmet with a face cage just like everybody else's. His only defense is a lacrosse stick that is 12 inches across and looks like a wooden garden rake.

But it is not a dangerous sport, insists sophmore goalie Bryant Waters who was nursing a broken thumb on the sidelines. "And it only takes about an hour to learn to catch the ball with the stick. And once you learn that, a coach can teach you the rest."

Since Bud Beardmore settled in at Maryland to coach lacrosse in 1970, his teams have appeared in all six NCAA championship tournaments and reached the final five times, winning in 1973 and '75. "Be The Best," Beardmore's motto, is emblazoned on the red practice jerseys. "It means be the best on the field, off the field and in the classroom," explained freshman Mark Burdett, looking like a Boy Scout ready to salute.

Beardmore runs a highly organized practice with a voice that sounds like a bullhorn. "What, are you asleep?" he bellows at one player. "How many times have we practiced that?"

But the anguish in his voice is temporary. There are too many quick feet and agile hands on the field for Beardmore to worry about one missed practice play. He seems to have a hammerlock on lacrosse players in this area. The hometowns listed in the roster are Baltimore, Annapolis, Timonium, Monkton and Severna Park, all hotbeds of the sport.

But why, when the Maryland Terps present successful college lacrosse in Washington's backyard, are area high schools shunning this graceful sport. "Coaches and money," Beardmore says. Field time is a problem, too, because of competition with soccer and football, and the equipment is not cheap. Helmets are $20, gloves, $15. Add a $25 stick to the $10 elbow pads and $25 soccer shoes and multiply by the average roster size of 40 to 45 players.

A few manufacturing companies now offer package deals for school districts interested in staring lacrosse programs. Briane of Boston and STX of Timonium, Md., are two who offer discounts and time payments. Beardmore reports a summer lacrosse beltway league jointly sponsored by the Montgomery County Recreation Department and the Prince George's County's Kiwanis Clubs. "And it's catching on in Northern Virginia," he said.

It is an energetic game that requires endurance and an exquisitly fine touch. It is not as physical as football, nor as dangerous. Players rarely even wear padding. "Oh, a couple of guys almost lost the ends of their fingers getting slap-checked," reported manager Joe Cohen, but he didn't seem too disturbed. There are a lot of knees with scabe on them.

Goalie Wilson Phipps claims. "We're Maryland's only consistent winner," but freshman Burdett admitted that lacrosse stars don't get as much attentio as say, Mark Manges, the quarterback for the football Terps.

Most lacrosse players don't play the sport for star status, however. "It's fun. It's a freer sport," said Reed. "Everybody on lacrosse is looser. And I like playing goalie because it's like being quarterback of the defense. You're in control and you're looked at as a leader who can correct the team's mistakes. But," and he pauses to waggle wild eyes and circle his index finger around one ear. "You have to be a little crazy."