Steve Wysocki was nervous. He was bringing a black friend home to have dinner with his conservative Catholic Polish family and he wondered if his parents would like Charlie.

He never figured they would adopt him.

"We fell in love with him," said Pat Wysocki, Steve's mother.

Five years later, Charlie D. (for DeGraffenreid, his former name) Wysocki is the most promising freshman on the University of Maryland football team. He is a sturdy tailback who runs with his head down and his heart full of joy.

He figures he never would be here if the Wysockis hadn't taken him in, and he attempts to pay them back on every report card, and in every yard he runs. He played his best game ever, rushing for 274 yards, after he promised his hospitalized sister Mille that he would play for her.

"I owe them everything," said Wysocki. "My goal is to play pro, and if I do, I'm not going to foret them.

After that first dinner, Charlie was invited for dinner every week. Soon it was every night. And then, every meal. They gave him a key so he wouldn't miss breakfast if the rest of the family had already gone, or was not yet up.

Gradually, Charlie brought his belongings over and began living with the Wysockis in their spacious home in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

"I had really only seen white people when I shined their shoes," said Wysocki.

It was a job he dislike, but he needed the money to supplement a diet built mainly of cola and candy bars. There were 14 children in Charlie's family, and his father died when Charlie was in 10th grade.

"I always heard that I would never amount to anything," said Wysocki. "I love my first mom. It's hard to put into words what happened."

Wysocki was not getting along with one of his older brothers, and this encouraged him to stay away as often as possible. When the Wysockis began attending to Charlie's routine medical needs, they began to feel concerned about the legality of what they were doing for Charlie. People have run into legal problems for doing nice things for other people's children.

The Wysockis brought up the subject of legal custody with Charlie. Charlie said no.

"He asked us to adopt him," said Mrs. Wysocki.

"We had always wanted more children, but we were unable to have them," said Stan Wysocki, Steve's father.

Surely Charlie's natural mother did not enjoy signing the necessary papers, giving up her 15-year-old son for adoption. But, like the Wysockis, she wanted what was best for him.

"She was down a little bit," said Charlie Wysocki. "I take her up a present on Mother's Day. She's happy to see that I'm doing good.

"I knew what I was doing was the right thing. This wasn't just something we popped into. I was old enough to make decision, and I have no regrets.At first it was hard, but everything worked out.

"My (natural) brother Tom is one of my biggest fans. He comes to the house once in a while and has a drink with my father.

"We never looked at it as a black-white thing," said Wysocki, reflecting on the adoption. "I'm not changing my identity, I'm black and that's never going to change. If you're a true person, that's all that matters. I have two best friends at home - one's black and one's white. My black friend comes over for dinner on Sunday, and my dad is helping him get started out in business."

Stan Wysocki, who owns a swimming pool company and a masonery contract firm, said he and his wife "thought we might have repercussions from the neighbors. But everyone loves him. It's really something.

"Everything just jibed. Nobody had to adjust to anything."

The Wysockis worried about how their son and daughter would react. Pat says, "Come to us with tears in her eyes and said, 'Don't let him leave us.'

"He's a wonderful contribution to our family. The house is dead without him. After we drove him down here, I cried all the way home."

Wysocki, who has had two outstanding scrimmages, is already one of the most popular students on campus. Wysocki even had occasion to meet Redskin defender Pete Wysocki, who, as it turns out, is a cousins of his second family. The new cousins posed for pictures and had a good laugh.

The Wysockis did not know Charlie had taken their last name until they went to a PTA meeting last year and saw the name "Charlie D. Wysocki" written across the top of his papers. They have made it his legal name, by his request.

"They've given me everything else. Why not their name?" said Wysocki. "Everything I do is for my family."

After his adoption, the Wysockis sent him to a reading clinic (Steve also had to go) and set up strict study rules. His grades, which had been poor, came up.

"I'll never forget one report card, he ran in to show me," said Pat. "There were five As and one C. He made the honor roll."

Charlie also has converted to Catholicism, and, like the rest of the Wysockis, he wears a St. Jude medal around his neck. St. Jude is the "patron saint of hopeless cases."