When the University of Maryland kick-return team takes the field some time after 1:30 p.m. today to receive a kickoff from Villanova, Mike Lewis will trot back to the goal line to await the kick.
"I just know," Lewis said yesterday, "that when I look up at that crowd and think about the whole thing that I'm going to feel overwhelmed by it all. But I'll just have to keep myself calm and low-key it as best I can."
Lewis is one of five freshmen who will be in uniform for the Terrapins this afternoon when they open the season against the Wildcats. Along with defensive linemen Howard Eubanks and Mark Duda, Lewis expects to see a good deal of playing time.
Maryland is not the only local school opening its 1979 season today. Howard will debut under new Coach Floyd Keith at home against West Virginia State, renewing an old rivalry dormant the past five seasons.
Virginia, hoping for its second winning season in 28 years, will open at home against Richmond. Coach Dick Bestwick has more experienced players this season than at any time in his four years in Charlottesville.
Virginia Tech Coach Bill Dooley begins his second season in Blacksburg by taking his Hokies on the road to face Louisville. Ted Vactor starts his second season at the University of the District of Columbia with a road game at Cheyney State.
For Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne, the very fact that three freshmen will play a lot is enough to make him edgy even with Villanova, 0-6 against Maryland in the Claiborne era, as the opposition.
But the three freshmen, while admitting to being nervous, are eager and confident, especially Duda, whose brother Steve has been a three-year starter at defensive tackle for Villanova.
"I'm just excited by the whole thing," said the 6-foot-5 250-pounder who also plays defensive tackle. "I'm glad to be on the varsity and since one of my goals was to play every game, I'm glad to have a chance to play some.
"I think it's great that it worked out that my first game would be against Steve's team," he added. "Watching him while I was in high school was one of the main reasons why I wanted to play football. Our whole family will be here, so Ill be nervous but ready."
Eubanks, 6-foot-1, 205, played for Sonny Randle at Masanutten Academy last season so he has one year more of experience than Duda and Lewis. But he is equally jittery about playing his first game in front of a large crowd.
"I know Ill be aware of the crowd but hopefully I'll get used to it after a while," he said. "I'll just do what I've done in practice since I got here, concentrate on my assignments and try to keep myself calm. I think I can do that."
Perhaps the most pressure will be on Lewis. While Duda and Eubanks will be sharing time on the defensive line with more experienced teammates, Lewis will be expected to handle the bulk of the kickoff duties along with Charlie Wysocki.
I don't really look on it as their being that much pressure," Lewis
"I don't really look on it as there being that much pressure," Lewis said. "I'm a freshman and if a freshman makes a mistake it isn't that big a surprise. All I'll be doing is trying not to get overly keyed up."
All three of the freshmen cited Claiborne's record at Maryland -- six straight Bowl appearances -- as one of the main reasons for choosing the school. And all three said the biggest adjustment has been the caliber and intensity of practice sessions.
"You have to keep moving all the time," Lewis said. "It isn't like high school where you can rest once in a while."
"When I first got here and I saw all the big guys out there I was thinking 'how am I going to compete with these guys," Duda said. "But after a few days in practice I felt like I fit in and I got more and more confident as I went along."
Or, as Eubanks put it: "You have to expect the unexpected all the time. You can't afford to turn your head because you'll get popped."
At Howard, rookie Coach Keith is hoping his young team is ready for a veteran West Virginia State team. The Bison, 4-6 a year ago, are expecting an air attack from WVSU, which returns.all 22 starters from a 6-4 team a year ago.
"This being their first game, we don't know what they'll focus on," Keith said. "But you don't move a secondary man who is an All-America (Terry Atkinson, 11 interceptions) to split end unless you're planning to throw the ball."
Howard will utilize the veer offense led by junior quarterback Ronald Wilson and senior quarterback Brian Thomas, with whom Wilson split time a year ago. Tight end Fitz Fowler is the most experienced receiver, with 15 passes for 259 yards and five touchdowns in 1978. Kickoff is at 1:30 p.m.
Down in Charlottesville, the Cavaliers finally have a quarterback they think can move the ball consistently -- Todd Kirtley, a sophomore from Robinson High School in Fairfax.
With juniors Tommy Vigorito and Greg Taylor at the running back spots, Bestwick has two things he consistently lacked the last three years: experience and talent.
The largest opening day crowd in Scott Stadium history, 30,000, is expected and both schools have traded insults all week. Both Richmond, 3-8 a year ago, and the Cavaliers, 2-9 in '78, return a majority of their starters.
Virginia Tech was 4-7 a year ago in Dooley's first year as coach and faces a tough opener at Louisville. The Cardinals were 8-3 a year ago and lost to Maryland in the contest's final moments.
UDC, 6-4 last season, faced Cheyney State two years ago in its first year of existence and was beaten 48-0. Vactor, the former Redskin defensive back, is hoping to improve on that score.