This year, Charlie Johnson is a senior, and the University of Maryland football team is advertising him as its All-American candidate.

But the 6-foot-2. 250-pound defensive tackle stood out long before. He used to be the guy loafing, making all the mistales.

"When they showed the films. Coach (Jerry) Claiborne used to point out my lack of hustle in front of everybody," said Johnson.

"I used to hate practice and there was nothing anyone could do to cheer me up. I dreaded it. They would yell at me. Certain drills other players would to them once. I had to do them over and over and over - eight times - until I did them right.

"I though, "Why me?'"

Johnson answered his own question in last year's Hall of Fame Classic. Coaches try not to waste time on lazy players with no promise, but lazy players with talent rate insult after insult.

It all became clear to Johnson when Maryland played Minnesota in that bowl game. and Johnson was like a magic act. everywhere at once, with 16 first-hit tackles, four quarterback sacks, three hits that caused fumbles and one fumble recovery.

"I was doing things I couldn't believe," said Johnson and 54 writers who agreed with him voted him the game's most valuable player. The player who placed second got two votes.

"The thing that really turned it around completely for Charlie was that bowl game," said Gib Romaine, defensive tackle coach. "That was the game he finally realized what kind of ability he had and what he could do with it."

So now the world has changed around Charlie Johnson. Two National Football League scouts who visited Maryland practices this month said they had come to look at the Terrapins' two best prospects: tailback Steve Atkins and johnson. Romaine now calls Johnson "the kind of player we like to coach>" and in the Terps' two games this season, Johnson made 36 tackles and three sacks. He also caused two fumbles.

Saturday will present Johnson's biggest challenge, going against the veer offense of three-point favorite North Carolina.

"Maryland and North Carolina are among preseason favorites for the Atlantic Coast Conference title and the verdict Saturday could go a long way in deciding the championship. That is the only goal Johnson will speak about. There are others, but Johnson said. "I try to keepn them to myself. No one else needs to know."

Johnson is probably the most easy going person in the ACC and he was a bit surprised and embarrassed by the launching of the All-American campaign.

"I found out about it when I read it in the paper, just like everyone else," said Johnson.

Last year's defense was Claiborne's worst at Maryland since 1972, the first year of his reign yielding 282.7 yards and 15.6 points per game. This year, Claiborne expects improvement, and much of the burden of the wide-tackle-six defense falls on the tackles.

"Our defensive tackles have to do a lot of things, and be able to make big plays," said Romaine. "At times, he responsible for containment, keeping everyone inside, and at other times he has to play the run. Charlie has excellent size and speed and great natural lower-body strength. He's doing the things we need.

"He has always had the ability. But it's just in the last year that he has gotten the 'effort' habit he didn't have before. We stayed on top of him because he was losing concentration. Every once in a while, you forget what you're supposed to do. He's really come along in that way.

"Coming back in that bus from the Hall of Fame game, he was holding that MVP trophy on his lap, and he was a pretty happy young man. It's something he's proud of. Now he practices hard and plays that way. We don't have to get on him now."

Johnson typically plays down the importance of his individual award, but said. "The Hall of Fame game had a lot to do with the change in my attitude.

"I finally realized the coaches were only trying to help me. I stopped trying to condemn them and changed my act; I tried to do all the right things."

With Johnson, it was a question of believing in himself and of maturity. He figured out it might be worth it.

"He's taken an awful lot of criticism from us," said Romaine. "A lot of times kids think they're doing it right when they're not. Charlie has really matured and become critical of himself."

Romaine noticed the difference immediately this year, when Johnson reported to school looking as if he had stuffed his shirt with bowling balls. "This is the first year he's really worked at developing his upper body. And you can see the difference>" Romaine said.

"I lifted (weights) this summer, more than I ever did," said Johnson. "I worked out with Darnell Dailey (a reserve linebacker from Baltimore). He pushed me at times when I didnt want to do any more. He's like that."