A driver senses he is nearing the John Hopkins University campus not so much by knowledges of the city's streets as by the growing numbers of stick-wielding youths apparent the closer he gets to the school.

It almost seems that, rather than a school identification card, a lacrosse stick is the article required to gain admission to the hilly, wooded campus. Student hand-carrying capacity is severely taxed between loads of books and web-ended staffs.

Johns Hopkins is synonymous with lacrosse. The college gym houses the sport's hall of fame-appropriately enough, since 34 of 119 members are former Blue Jay players and coaches. Hopkins has placed 115 men on All-America teams since the selections were begun in 1922. Twice, lacrosse has been played in the Olypmics (1928 and 1932) and each time the American representatives was Hopkins.

The school is also one of the few that field a women's lacrosse team. There are also 15 intramural teams at Hopkins which has an enrollment of 3,000. Annually, the best high school teams from New York and Baltimore come to Homewood Field for a round-robin tournament.

"Hopkins is the only school in the country where lacrosse is the No. 1 sport," said Blue Jay Coach Henry Ciccarone. "Here, it's like football at Notre Dame or basketball at UCLA. A kid grows up in this area and sees the intense interest, crowds of 15,000 for big games. I know that makes recruiting a lot easier."

At the moment, Hopkins-after a four-year absence-again tops the national rankings. The Jays are No. 1 on the strength of an 8-0 record and their 33rd national title captured last year.

"I don't care about the rankings now," said Ciccarone. "The one that counts comes at the end of the season, after the NCAA playoffs. That's all anyone remembers.

"Maryland is ranked second, also unbeaten, and has had some very convincing wins over good teams. They might also have a case."

The two teams will settle that matter Saturday when they square off in a 2 p.m. game in Byrd Stadium. Hopkins has beaten the Terps four straight times, including a 17-11 victory in the 1978 NCAA semifinals.

Ciccarone is in his fifth year as head coach after earning All-American honors as a Blue Jay midfielder. He was assistant coach for seven years before taking over for former coach and current athletic director, Bob Scott, who still helps coach the Jays.

Ciccarone refused to compare this year's squad with the 1978 edition that won 13 of 14 games and avenged its only regular-season loss with a championship-game victory over Cornell.

"Last year's team was one of the great ones we've had," said Ciccarone."This team plays along the same lines, but we are missing some outstanding individuals."

Hopkins graduated three first-team All-America players last year. However, two are back: goalkeeper Mike Federico and midfielder Scott Baugher, plus second-team All-Americas Mark Greenberg and Dave Huntley.

"We have less stars than last year, but at each vacant position there are three or four others ready to step in," said senior attackman Frank Cutrone. "Now, everyone gets into the action on attack."

The Blue Jays, who have handed third-ranked Cornell and No. 6 Army their only losses of the season, have outshot the opposition, 410-250. Hopkins is especially deadly on extra-man offensive situations, connecting on 41 percent of its shots.

But it is the traditional Blue Jay defense that has been particularly outstanding. Led by the likes of the 6-foot-4 Greenberg, the defense has allowed fewer than six goals per game. Extra-man situations have offered little hope for an opposition score: while being one man short, the Jays have allowed only 22 percent of shots to reach the net.

Sophomore midfielder Ned Radebaugh and soph attackman Jeff Harris each have scored 13 goals to lead balanced Blue Jay scoring. Twelve players have tallied at least five goals; eight have at least 20 shots on goal.

"We've had good production from the kids who have stepped in to fill the vacancies at the attack position," said Ciccarone.

"We have a good group of seniors, who all know what has to be done," he added. "The main thing is to keep our poise."

About half of the 34-man squad hails from the metropolitan Baltimore area. Many old-time Hopkins players and coaches helped set up lacrosse programs at the Baltimore high schools. Those schools have returned the favor by sending scores of high school All-Americas to the university.

Nearly all of the other Blue Jay stickmen came south from lacrosse-happy New York City and Long Island. Cutrone, a Uniondale, N.Y. native, explained why he passed up instate powers like Cornell and Syracuse:

"The school is behind us 100 percent. Fans here follow lacrosse religiously and are extremely knowledgeable and critical about the sport.

"Just to be on the field in front of those big crowds is a thrill for me. Plus, I know a lot of Cornell players back home. It's nice to be able to look them in the eye during the summer." CAPTION: Picture, Frank Cutrone (47) and All-Americans Scott Baugher (25) and Dave Huntley (18) are three reasons why Johns Hopkins holds the No.1 ranking in the country.