It was with some reluctance that Ted Brown lodged himself between the smiling coeds who were wearing those embarrassing T-shirts.

The shirts read "Ted Brown for the Heisman," and once they trapped Brown in the middle, a photographer snapped pictures to send across the land.

The North Carolina State school newspaper has started a letter-writing campaign to back Brown, the candidate who wonders what it's all about, even though the senior running back is the only active player on the NCAA Top 10 career rushing list.

"We had to sit him down and explain why we were going to push him for the Heisman," said Ed Seaman, the sports information director. "He said he couldn't understand it, since he hadn't even been an All-American the year before."

In his career with the Wolfpack Brown has rushed for 3,868 yards, and if the senior matches last year's total of 1,251, he will move up to No. 5 on the all-time list, dislodging Earl Campbell. Heisman Trophy and all. If Brown improves his output by 50 yards (so far he has added at least 160 yards each year), he will move up to No. 4, trailing only Tony Dorsett, Archie Griffin and Ed Marinaro.

So far this season, Brown is averaging 154 yards a game in State's 4-0 plunge into the schedule. If he gains 104 yards tomorrow at Byrd Stadium against Maryland, he will become the Atlantic Coast Conference's all-time leading rusher, passing North Carolina grad Mike Voight.

So why is this man embarrassed to be campaigning for the Heisman?

Because Brown is no dumb football player. He realizes that even though there is no clear-cut favorite for the award this year, the trophy probably will go to a player on one of the television star teams finishing in the top five. North Carolina State has been on television about as often as The Singing Nun and never in the history of the wire service polls has finished in the top eight.

"If our football team ends up in the Top 10 and goes to a major bowl and I have an exceptional year, better than the other players, then there's a chance," the Brown. "All this stuff about the Heisman doesn't bother me. I just try to do the same thing I did last year, but a little better."

Brown admits that back at Andrews High School in Highpoint, N.C., "I never dreamed of being an All-America and stuff like that."

He was a state high school all-star, all right. But only on the basketball team.

North Carolina State was the only major college that recruited him for football, because Brown was 5-foot-10, 180 pounds. Even at State, where Brown went to prove himself, progress came so slowly he almost quit the team.

If it wasn't for the advice of Brown's mother, he might be side by side with his father today, repairing machinery in a textile mill, thinking nothing of the Heisman Trophy.

Brown's mother was the major figure in the Brown rags-to-riches story, and she still is, even though she died while Ted played in a football game 13 months ago.

"My mother encouraged me not to quit. She said things in life don't come easy," said Brown. "My mother was good to me. She always talked about me making it to the top.

"I still think about her every day, and it keeps me going. I know she's watching over me.

"One of the things she always said was that you have to go on and carry on, no matter what. But it was real hard for me to get over this."

Brown's last memory of his mother was in a hospital bed, laughing, telling her son she was all right and would try to make it to the football game the next day.

After she died that day, from a illness that Brown says "I never really understood." Brown wanted to quit again, but his father encouraged him to continue. His 1,251 yards gained that year were the most by any runner in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

In one game against Penn State, he rushed for 251 yards in 31 carries, caught four passes and scored a touch-down breaking a record set against the Nittany Lions by Dorsett.

After that game, Penn State line-backer Rick Donaldson said, "Ted Brown is better than Dorsett. He runs harder than Dorsett, I hit him several times, but I couldn't take him back."

Penn State Coach Joe Paterno added, "He is one of the great backs in the country. What did he gain, anyway? Four hundred and fifty yards?

Brown is still a small back at 5-10, 199 pounds, who draws from leg strength and a wealth of agility and balance. His prowess as a basketball player and his leaping ability are widely discussed on the basketball-crazed campus.

"He can dunk and he can reverse dunk. He probably could play for us," said Seaman. "After football practice, he stays on the field and plays little games. He stands under the goal post and can leap up and block a field goal if it is just over the bar. I've seen him do that myself."