It is not a happy place, that forgotten stretch of darkness where Steve Atkins' shadow falls.

It is the place where Maryland's backup tailback, senior Alvin (Preacher) Maddox gropes for patience.

Maddox knows that Atkins, his best friend, is off to his best start ever, just 423 yards short of Louis Carter's single-season rushing record.

Maddox knows that Atkins deserves to play.

Maddox also knows that this is his own senior year. Maddox, who was once All-State, is unhappy about his limited playing time.

"I understand the position I'm in, but I still expect to play more than I have been," said Maddox, who has carried the ball 31 times for 151 yards. Atkins has carried 107 times, for 568 yards.

"I wasn't happy until this week," said Maddox, who appeared only briefly in Saturday's Kentucky game, carrying four times for 20 yards. "I got in for a few plays, but I would have liked to have played more.

"I think I've been playing pretty good. Some games I play more and some I get in only a few plays. I don't understand that, but I have to bear with it.

"The choaches know how I feel. There ain't too much that can be said. I just hope I play more next week.

On Saturday, the 4-0 Terps host North Carolina State, a special opponent for Maddox. It was against North North Carolina State in 1976 that Maddox took over for an injured Atkins and gained 138 yards, 120 in the second half. It was against North Carolina State last year that Maddox again filled in for an ailing Atkins and rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns, outgaining the Wolfpack's celebrated Heisman candidate, Ted Brown.

Atkins and Maddox have been friends and roomates since their freshman year, once devising a scheme in which they would both leave Maryland and transfer to Virginia Tech to run simultaneously in Tech's wishbone. Both are from Virginia, Maddox coming from Robert E. Lee high in Staunton, where he gained 1,400 yards in his senior year.

There are also striking differences between them. Atkins is the refrigerator-sixed runner who knocks over people; Maddox the rabbit darting between them. Atkins is virtually silent while Maddox retains the nickname Preacher, given him by his mother because he was such a talkative toddler.

The other difference is that Atkins has risen above Maddox.

"I've never compared myself to him. I'm not worried about size. That doesn't mean much. Some of the best runners in the country are small. I don't known I must not be doing the job, or something," said Maddox.

"He's having a real great year and I'm happy for him. He's one of the best in the country. I knew Steve would get a lot of playing time, but I at least expected to play some. I was satisfied with a few of the games, but not the last one.

"This is my fourth year and ever since I've been here, it's been like this. I don't regret coming here. Sometimes I think about that, but I don't regret it. I figure it's like this everywhere. Basically, all of them are the same."

That's the worst thing about groping in the shadows - the vision that keeps popping up is that maybe you aren't good enough, not good enough for here, not good enough for anywhere.

But Maddox has learned to reject that.

"In the past year, I've learned to adjust to this," said Maddox. "As a freshman I'd get so upset I would explode. I can handle it much better now."

Defensive back Chris Ward has been told by doctors that he definitely will have to sit out the rest of the year and may require another operation on his back. Ward, a senior, said he will decide later whether to try to play next year . . . Peter Haley, who suffered a broken neck in the opening game, is back at school, wearing a neck brace and walking with a cane . . . Scouts from the Orange Bowl will attend Maryland's game Saturday. A crowd of 43,000 is expected for homecoming . . .