Lying in a hospital bed with a broken neck gives a person plenty of time to think.

So it was occured to Maryland second-string linebacker Peter Haley Jr. that the cracked vertebra he sustained in Saturday's opener put him within a millimeter of life-long paralysis.

"In the ambulance, the first thing I thought of was Daryll Stingley," said Haley, who, unlike the New England Patriots' wide receiver, can sit up in his Sibley Memorial Hospital bed.

"This is just one of those things that happen. If I were paralyzed from the waist down, I wouldn't have regretted playing football."

It is only luck and team physician Stanford Lavine that prevented Haley from possibly being in Stingley's situation. Haley thought he has suffered only a pinched nerve and wanted to go back into the game, but Lavine was able to detect the injury on the sideline and put him in an ambulance.

Haley does not have any paralysis. He suffers little pain and walks around a bit each day, all the time wearing a brace to keep his neck stiff. He will undergo surgery Monday to fuse together the broken vertebra, and the doctors told him he may be back in class in a few weeks. Possibly he can play football next fall if he wishes.

"I want to play my last two years of college ball," said Haley, who played briefly at Tennessee for a year and transferred to Maryland as a walk-on last season.

"It's a challenge, something that not everybody gets to do. When you walk out on the field and the stands are full, and the band is playing, and people are cheering, well, I can tell you it feels good. But you don't know what I mean.

"The stands are full of depressed jocks who wish they could be where we are instead of playing intramurals."

Haley's family album tells the story of where he learned his love for the sport. His uncle, Bill Haley, was an All-America at Holy Cross in the 1950s; another uncle, Jim Ricca, was an All-America at Georgetown and played for the Redskins; a cousin, John Ricca, played in the World Football League and in Canada; and his uncle, Pat, and his father, Pete, played for Villanova. His brother Matthew, was the only junior on the All-Met team last year, as a defensive lineman at Bullis School.

Haley was originally a running back at St. John's College High School and accepted the offer at Tennessee "because like very kid, I wanted to get away from home. It was stupid."

When Haley discovered that he missed his girl friend, his family and his football buddies, and when he watched Maryland go 11-0 while Tennessee went 7-4, he decided to come home.

"I wasn't allowed to talk to the coaches until Tennessee released me, but my father knows a lot of people and he said he thought Maryland would like to have me if I'd transfer," said Haley.

At Tennessee, he sat out the final seven games with an ankle injury, and last year at Maryland he went through all the practices while sitting out the mandatory year for transfer students. At that time, he had no scholarship assistance.

"They told me that if I became one of the top five linebackers they'd help me along," said Haley.

Haley's partial scholarship, which covers room and board, just became official this week.

"I wasn't even expecting a partial scholarship this semester. I thought I'd have to prove myself this fall and then maybe get one in September. That's all I was waiting for," said Haley. "They had said at the end of this season, depending how I did, they could maybe give me a full one if I proved I could play. So I get hurt in the second quarter."

Haley sustained the injury when his face mask hit head-on with the forward-moving knee of a running back. The blow snapped his neck.

"I was aiming for his waist, and he moved, so I changed my angle and had to hit a step lower," said Haley. "It was not intentional at all. No one drives his facemask into somebody's knee - it's going to get you hurt."

Serious head and neck injuries caused by helmets and particularly by face masks were recently reported in a series in sports Illustrated. If Haley hadn't worn a face mask, he probably would have suffered a broken nose.

Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne said in an interview two weeks ago that he would like to see all face masks removed. But no team is willing to take the step until all its opponents are forced to do the same.

"I think everybody should take off face masks," said Haley. "I read the articles in Sports Illustrated, and I thought, oh, those poor guys. But you don't think about it happening to you. No one thinks they're going to break their neck."

Haley knows better now but it still hasn't affected his feelings about football. His first thought after he broke his neck was to go back in the game.

"That was my first game for Maryland and I wanted to play so badly," said Haley. "All my uncles and cousins were there."

He has been in good spirits, irking the friendly hospital staff by ordering Chinese food brought to his room at 2 a.m. When the group of people visiting him one night turned into a crowd of 30, they all moved to a lounge, and Haley received a gentle scolding because his doctors don't want him walking around that much.

He has received plenty of cards and phone calls but says he is still down.

"I'm down because I'm missing the season," said Haley. "I'd give anything to go to Louisville (where the Terpa play tomorrow night).

"The doctors say that if everything goes right, and if the rehabilitation goes well, and if I really strengthen my neck lifting a lot of weights, and if I wear a collar. I could be 100 percent. I could play again," said Haley. "But that's a lot of if's.

"Spring practice looks pretty doubtful, but I may be able to continue in the fall. Hopefully."