Here was Mike Simon in El Paso, as far from his Pennylvania home as he has ever been, preparing to play, even start, for Maryland in Saturday's nationally televised Sun Bowl football game against Texas.

This is remarkable because Simon is not as talented as most of the other centers in college football. He's not as talented as the other Terrapin centers.

"No doubt about that," Simon agreed.

But after four years of "wondering if I'd actually get on the field and play," Simon started every game for Maryland this year as a fifth-year senior.

He became known, to his embarrassment, as Coach Jerry Claiborne's favorite player, because of his refusal to let the odds beat him.

This year, Simon has suffered from a chronically puffy knee, a bad hamstring pull a groin-muscle pull and a broken finger.

"But you can imgine," said Simon, "after waiting for four years, you wouldn't let an injury keep you from playing."

One day after this regular season ended, Claiborne had a phone call from a senior all-star bowl.

The bowl representatives wanted a player from Maryland and they wanted a center. A person privy to the conversation said Claiborne replied he had a center but that he was rather unspectacular. Claiborn added, however, that he "is probably the toughest youngster in the program; he just wouldn't let the guy behind him beat him out."

So here was Mike Simon in El Paso, on his way to the Hula Bowl in the Honolulu.

"I'm real surprised," said Simon. "And of course I'm happy. But I felt that (linebacker) Neal Olkewicz and a few other guys deserved it more than I did."

Steve Atkins and Charles Johnson will represent Maryland in the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl, and Simon is the only other senior who will play another college game after Saturday's tangle with favored Texas.

Certainly, other Maryland seniors-Olkewicz, Preacher Maddox, Tim O'Hare, Bruce Palmer, to name a few-deserved the bid to the ultimate vacation bowl more than Simon. But that is judging on talent only.

There is a kind of justice in an Hawaiian trip being awarded to aplayer like Simon, who said that just getting to play had been reward enough.

Maryland defensive back Lloyd Burruss sprained an ankle during the team's Thanksgiving layoff and still is hobbling, but should play Saturday . . . Terp players have been treated to a tour of Juarez, to dinner at an elegant steak house, to a breakfast roast and dog racing . . . Quarterback O'Hare and Texas quarterback Mark McBath participated in a shootout, cowboy style, and O'Hare won two of three. The guns fired blanks.