Known as a man of his word, Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne told the television cameras that Terrapin Neal Olkewicz is the best linebacker in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Then he reconsidered.

"Olkewicz," Claiborne corrected, "is one of the finest in the nation."

And quicker than you could say "Neal who?" the guys sitting around Olkewicz' television set were firing verbal jabs.

After all, Olkewicz is the guy who lost his starting position after the team dropped its third straight game last year; who didn't even make all-conference (the three linebackers who did are still playing in the ACC); who describes himself as having "adequate" strength and speed.

But this is also a player who mirrors so many others on the 12th-ranked, unbeaten Maryland team: unspoiled, unpublicized and determined to prove himself. Olkewicz leads the Terps in tackles with 93 in five games, including 54 first hits and five tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

This good season started last summer in the ditches and gravel pits of Phoenixville, a suburb of Philadelphia.

Olkewicz worked on construction there in a hometown he described as "the kind of place where, if you get into a argument, you just punch each other out and walk away."

"It's tough life there," said Olkewicz. "You go and get away from this place (College Park), like I did when I came home and saw my friends go to the factories day in and day out, and you realize how lucky you are to be here, to have an opportunity to do something.

"I'm enjoying the games more. I just want to play every minute I can. Last year I had some real good games and some real poor games. But I started having a good feeling right after our bowl game.

"During the summer I dug ditches, hauled stones, lifted (weights) three nights a week and played paddle ball when I could fit it in. This year I'm in the best shape I've ever been in.

"Back home, there's not a heck of a lot to do anyway. I went to the shore a couple weekends, but I've got the rest of my life for that. This was going to be my senior year, and I was going to give it one last, good shot.

"This year I'm not having good games and poor games. I've been consistent. The biggest difference has been enthusiasm. For me and for the team. The whole unit is working better, even though we may not be as individually talented."

Maryland's defense has allowed an average of just 226 yards. Its best performance was against the most publicized team on the early part of the schedule, Kentucky. The Wildcats came up with a mere 147 yards against the who-are-they Terps.

"I know all the defenses by now," he said of Maryland's complicated wide-tackle-six.

"I was surprised that he (claiborne) said that about me. He doesn't give many compliments, and that means a lot to me. I still think I can do better. To make a mental mistake or two, miss a tackle. Maybe Jerry Caliborne is rubbing off on me. I want to be perfect.

Due to a combination of incorrect information supplied by Maryland and a typographical error, The Washington Post incorrectly reported quarterback Tim O'Hare's passing statistics against North Carolina State. He completed seven of 12 passes for 78 yards.

Navy, which has opened it season with four straight road victories, is ranked 19th by United Press International, while undefeated Maryland is rated 10th by Associated Press in this week's college football polls.

The Mids, with a 37-8 win at Air Force Saturday, are off to their best start since 1960 when they were 9-1-0 and lost to Missouri in the Orange Bowl.

The last time Navy ended a season in the UPI top 20 was in 1963 when it was ranked second behind Texas. Navy is No. 1 in the NCAA in degense, yielding 132 yards per game. Navy is unranked by AP.

Maryland, now 5-0 after humbling previously unbeaten North Carolina State Saturday, 31-7, is ranked 11th by UPI. Last week the Terps were 12th in AP and 13th in UPI.

Unbeatens Oklahoma and Southern California are 1-2 in both polls.