It was the summer of 1976. Charlie Wysocki was an eager 16-year old who dreamed of playing major college football some day.
To further that dream, Wysocki attended the University of Maryland's summer football camp. One day, Tom Groom, Maryland backfield coach, looked at Wysocki after a workout and said, "Charlie, someday you're going to be my starting tailback."
Three summers later, Groom's prediction has come true. And the brief period between Charlie Wysocki's days as a camper and his emergence as the Terrapin tailback is precisely the reason that skeptics say Maryland will be hurting in the backfield this season.
"Charlie's young and he's learning," Groom conceded. "But he's still got the thing that made us like him in the first place when he was a camper. That's his attitude. It's terrific. And the more he works and builds up his confidence, the better he's going to get."
Though he carried the football only 29 times last year as a freshman -- Wynsocki is undisputedly Maryland's No. 1 tailback because George Scott, expected to fill that job, failed his classes and left school last week.
"I was disappointed when George didn't make it," Wysocki said. "I enjoyed having him around at practice because we pushed each other.
"With him here I would have had to fight to be the starter but that would have been all right. In fact I was looking forward to it. Now, I know I'm the No. 1 tailback. I'm kind of psycher up for it but it would have been more fun if I had beated George out for the job because he's a great back."
The Maryland coaches think Wysocki has what it takes to be a great back himself. He is 5-foot-11 and 193 pounds (15 pounds lighter than last season). He has extremely quick feet and Groom thinks he may be a better inside runner than the graduated Steve Atkins or Scott.
The only question mark is Wysocki's hands. Both in practice and in his brief game appearances, Wysocki has had trouble at times holding onto the ball as a runner and as a receiver.
"I knew I had to work oh my hands this summer," Wysocki said, flashing the quick smile that is his trademark, "And I really did, every day, all summer long. I think I've made a lot of progress."
Groom agrees but knows there is still room for improvement. "The other day in practice Charlie fumbled the ball twice down near the goal line," Groom said. "That has to concern you. But he came running up to me right after practice and said, 'Coach, give me a football; and he just took it home with him, I think.
"As long as he's got that kind of attitude, he's going to get better. And the more he works at it, the more confident he's going to be."
Charles Degraffenreid Wysocki seems to exude confidence, the kind of confidence that comes only to those who have beaten the odds already.
Born in the Pennsylvania mining town of Wilkes-Barre as Charles Degraffenreid 19 years ago, he was one of 14 children. His father died when Charlie was a teen-ager and, like many children from underprivileged homes, he struggled in school.
But six years ago, a fried, Steve Wysocki, somewhat apprehensive about bringing a black friend home for dinner, did just that with Charlie. The Wysocki family fell in love with the fun-loving teen-ager and eventually he moved in with them. At 15 he was formally adopted by the Wysockis. His grades and his football improved steadily after the move.
"I owe them a lot," Wysocki said softly. "Last year they made it to nine of the games. This year they're going to try and make them all. I always feel a lot better when I know Mom and Dad are in the stands,"
If that's the case, Terp Coach Jerry Claiborne may want to personally escort the Wysockis to Maryland games this fall, because Wysocki will play a vital role for Maryland.
"I know there's a lot of pressure on me now to produce," he said. "But I'm confident. In high school I was in a similar situation. I knew I had to do the job and I did it.
"Now that I am the starting tailback, I feel like I have to be more of a leader. I've always been a very talkative guy in practice anyway; now I'm doing it more. And instead of running a play out 10 yards, I'm running it out 40 and then running back to the huddle."
Wysocki is happy now, pleased that he will probably be asked to carry the ball 20 times a game once the season begins Sept. 8 against Villanova.
A year ago he suffered through the freshman blahs when he had to watch Atkins and Alvin Maddox play ahead of him. "I wasn't used to not playing and it got me kind of down and discouraged," Wysocki said. "I knew I was prone to major errors though, and it gave me something to work for."
"Charlie had to adjust like most freshmen," Groom said. "He was allstate in high school, a star. But even though he had a lot of talent he had to learn a lot of the fundamentals. That takes a while."
Wysocki is still learning the fundamentals. He will undoubtedly learn a lot of his lessons on the field this season, a situation Claborne and Groom usually try to avoid.
"It's a concern," Groom said, "but from the first day of our tailbacks step on campus we try to make them think that someday they're going to have to start and have to carry the football. Charlie's known since he got here, the day would come when he would start."