A college football field on opening day is a comforting, invigorating sight and the reason is simple. It is the place to see all the storybook young men for whom everything has gone right.

Also, the world is not what it seems from the 43rd row of a sunwashed stadium. When Marlin Van Horn, barely 21, takes off his Maryland football helmet, he is almost entirely bald.

And when he makes his first collegiate start at defensive right guard Saturday against Tulane, those who knew him before he was No. 62 will understand what a happy chapter this is, because things did not always go right for Van Horn.

Van Horn is a product of four homes. What saved him from turning into "a guy on the street, just roaming, with no aspirations," was a high school track coach and his wife, who took him into their home for Van Horn's senior year in high school.

James Taylor and his wife Nancy gave Van Horn a set of study rules and a tranquil setting in which to use them. Had he not pulled up his grades and continued his athletic success, a scholarship might not have awaited him.

"There was no way in the world I could have gone to college without a scholarship," said Van Horn. "I'd hate to think what I'd be doing if I weren't here."

Van Horn's parents divorced when he was in seventh grade, and while his two sisters and brother stayed with his mother. Van Horn, the oldest, moved with his father from the Baltimore area to Selinsgrove, Pa.

"I didn't want to leave my sisters and brother," said Van Horn, "but I didn't want my dad to be alone."

The two lived alone for a few years, then his father married a woman with two children.

"It's tough to make it a family," said Van Horn. "It turns into 'her kids and my son,' and there was friction.

"I hate people who argue. It makes me nervous. So I used to leave the house, go for a walk, go to friend's house, watch TV."

One of the places he would stop off was his track coach's home. Van Horn was a javelin thrower of nation repute (at Selinsgrove Area High), finishing second by inches in the Golden West Invitational in Sacramento, Calif., with a toss of about 218 feet.

"I had always been close to my track coach and his wife," said Van Horn. "They knew what my situation was, and they understood. They would make me study for hours at a time when I'd come see them."

When Van Horn's father and his second wife divorced, Van Horn moved in with the Taylors.

"It was a very hard decision," said Van Horn. "I'm sure my dad didn't want me to leave. But I didn't want to be a burden to him. Financially, he just didn't have enough to really support me."

In his new environment, things fell into place. He finished second in the state in wrestling ("I lost the finals because I got hurt.I felt like I could beat anybody that day."), and his football play at linebacker and on the offensive line merited invitations to visit Ohio State, Penn State and Kentucky.

He chose Maryland because it was close to both his relatives in the Baltimore area and his friends in Selinsgrove.

"And I like the idea of playing for Coach (Jerry) Claibourne," said Van Horn. "I just thought he was a very sincere guy, he leveled with me and seemed to care about me as a person. He had the father image I was looking for. I think I made a good choice."

At College Park, Van Horn has a few more hurdles to clear.

"I think there are about 800 kids in my entire high school," said Van Horn. "My first class here had 500 people in it. It was kind of different.

On the football field, he had to make a difficult adjustment from linebacker to guard, and from star to substitute.

He played behind all-ACC guard Ted Klaube, a senior last year whose off-bea exuberance amazed everyone.

"Ted thought he could do anything," said Van Horn. "And he actually did it."

Nonetheless, Van Horn played enough to letter, and in his last two semesters he achieved a 2.9 grade average in industrial technology.

"Jim and Nance are teachers, and they've always been more interested in my schooling than my football," said Van Horn, now a junior. "I would love to play pro ball. But I'm worried about what I'm going to do when I get out of here. Hardly anyone makes the pros, and if you don't have a degree, you're in trouble."

Van Horn has had to learn many things the hard way in the last few years, and he is a young man of few complaints. Even his baldness, which used to bother him, he now calls "my own little identity."

"It makes me different, and if we weren't different, everybody would be the same."

It only appears that way from the 43rd row.