Dick Redding, the Maryland special teams coach, remembers the first time he saw Dale Castro kick a football.
"We felt right away that eventually he was going to be a good kicker because he had snap in his leg," Redding said yesterday."But I don't think we ever thought he would be this good."
For three games Castro has been almost perfect for the 3-0 Terrapins. He has tried 10 field goals and all 10 have been good. He has punted 18 times for a 37.8 yard average and the opposition has zero yards in punt runbacks. He has tried seven extra points and, just to prove he is human, he missed one.
"I still haven't had that game where I've done everyrhing really super yet," Castro said, fiddling with a hole in the side of his sneaker. "I haven't had that game where everything's been perfect."
Nobody at Maryland is complaining. To begin with, Castro, a junior from Shadyside, Md., is a rarity in this age of the specialist, an all-purpose kicker.
Second, Castro's 10 straight field goals are one short of an NCAA mark.
Third, he has scored 36 of Maryland's 78 points, is leading the nation in field goals and is tied for the lead in scoring.
"He's done everything we've asked him to," said Terrapin Coach Jerry Claiborne. "He's a sure bet down close and a pretty solid bet a long way out."
Castro says he can hit consistently from 50 yards.
The subject of all this coaching adulation is a quiet, black-haired political science major, who listens to David Bowie's music, speaks slowly and softly and often ponders a question for several seconds before replying.
"I'm enjoying the attention, it's fun," he said. "But even though I've gotten most of the recognition, people shouldn't forget Brent (Dewitz, Castro's holder) and Bruce (Byron, the snapper). If I've been perfect on my field goals, it's because they've been perfect, too."
Castro did not start out as a kicking specialist in college. As a child, he learned football, basketball and baseball from his father, Jack Castro, a construction contractor who coached him in all three sports until he reached high school.
At Southern High School, Castro was a good football player, a quarterback who made honorable mention all-state and a good kicker, but his best sport was baseball.
The only school that showed serious interest in him as a football player was Towson State. Castro decided to go to Maryland and try to make the baseball team.
"I had always gone to Maryland for football and basketball games and my sister went here," he said. "I thought I could make the baseball team so I decided to come here and try out for the team in the fall."
Castro never tried out. He was stopped early in his freshman year by that teen nemisis, mononucleosis. While recovering, he began stopping by football practice and found himself watching the kickers.
"Watching them I remember thinking, 'I can kick like that too,' maybe I should give it a try. So I went up to the football office and asked for a tryout."
Castro had started kicking soccer style the previous year as a high school senior after having watched sidewinding kickers on television.
"I started fooling around with it in my backyard and I found that I could kick the ball higher and farther like that even though I'd never played soccer. Then, it was just a matter of getting down the accuracy."
Redding, and Terry Strock, who coaches the Maryland punters, looked at Castro, liked what they saw and gave him a uniform even though they already had two solid placekickers in Mike Sochko and Ed Loncar. After earning the job as starting punter during spring practice that year, Castro was put on scholarship.
"Dale is different from a lot of kickers because he's such a good all-round athlete," Redding said of Castro's rapid improvement. "He's an extremely intense competitor. His concentration is excellent and he's worked extremely hard at both kicking and punting. He wants to be the best and he thinks he can be the best. He keeps on getting better."
As a sophomore, Castro did all the punting but had to watch senior Loncar handle the placekicking. That was frustrating.
"We've got a lot of good people here and sometimes you have to wait your turn," Castro said. "I knew if I was patient my turn would come. Now it has. Doing all the kicking I feel more a part of the game than I did last year when I was just punting. I like the extra responsibility."
Unlike Loncar, who had Castro to push him and Sochko, who had Loncar, Castro has no serious competition each day in practice. Until last week, the No. 2 kicker was Eric Sievers, who has a strong leg but spent most of his time thinking about playing tight end.
And when Sievers hurt a leg last week, Jan Carinci became the backup kicker. Carinci is the team's starting wingback.
"I know I helped Loncar last year by pushing him," Castro said. "But I don't mind not having real competition because knowing that I'm going to be doing all the kicking Saturday I work real hard. I want to get better."
If Castro gets much better someone may demand an investigation of his leg. And when he trots onto the field Saturday at Kentucky to try a field goal he will be trying to tie the NCAA record held by three kickers.
"I'll be thinking about the record before I go out there," he said with a smile. "I've already thought about it. But when I get out there, I'll just be concentrating on the kick."
Charlie Wysocki is still leading the nation in rushing with 478 yards in three games. He is second in all-purpose running (178.7 a game) behind Penn State's Curtis Warner . . . . The Terps will get word today on defensive tackle Ed Gall, who injured a knee Saturday . . . The Maryland defense ranks seventh in the nation overall, sixth against the pass. . . . The Maryland record for field goals in a season is 16 by Loncar last year. The ACC record is 17.