Norman Esiason, Maryland's starting quarterback, has been explaining to people all his life how he got the nickname "Boomer," so one more time wouldn't hurt.

"I got the name before I was born, when I used to kick a lot inside my mother," Esiason began. "There was a punter who was a teammate of my father's at Georgetown named Boomer and my father started it. Pretty soon, relatives and friends would look at my mother's stomach and ask 'How's Boomer?'

"Anyway, I'd rather be Boomer than Norman. I mean, I just can't go with Norman."

He also looks more like a Boomer, than a Norman. At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds and very, very blond, Esiason looks like he could be the star of one of those beach party movies.

Three weeks ago he was third string, the forgotten man in Maryland's two-way struggle for the starting quarterback job. "I was a little upset," Esiason said before a light team workout yesterday. "It was a lonely feeling."

But because Brent Dewitz hurt his knee in the season opener, and backup Bob Milkovich bruised his ribs in the same game, Esiason, a redshirted sophomore, started his first varsity game two weeks ago against West Virginia. He played fairly well.

He started against North Carolina State Saturday and played even better, completing nine of 20 passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns and drawing praise from Coach Jerry Claiborne.

"I'm still pinching myself," Esiason said. "I didn't feel the impact of the victory over N.C. State until (Monday) morning when I woke up. I'm not happy with how I got the starting job, because I won it only by default. So I have to keep it in perspective."

Perhaps it is necessary to put the Maryland quarterback situation in perspective.

Dewitz, a redshirted junior, combined toughness and a nice passing touch with a knack for what to do in emergencies. Milkovich, a fifth-year senior, read defenses very well and was a drop-back passer. Both had more experience than Esiason, from East Islip, N.Y. But Claiborne and both quarterbacks would say that the left-handed Esiason possessed more basic talents.

Claiborne says he knew from summer scrimmages that Esiason had a flair for the big play. But he also was conscious of Esiason's inconsistency and tendency to make mistakes at times the team couldn't afford it. But in two games as the starter, Esiason has made only two or three obvious mistakes.

"Overall, I'm pleased with Boomer's performances," Claiborne said. "His ability to audible plays at the line has improved a lot since preseason."

But Esiason, who was harsh in public criticism of himself after the loss to West Virginia, said, "I still make too many mistakes. If I stand around patting myself on the back, I won't get better."

After two starts, Esiason has completed 24 of 52 passes for 273 yards. A dozen dropped passes have lowered his completion average to 46 percent. "I guess the coaches realize I can play," he said.

But Claiborne will not say Esiason is his starting quarterback for the rest of the season. "I have confidence in Bob, too," the coach said, adding that reporters and fans "place too much emphasis on who starts."

Esiason said he prefers the uncertainty.

"Coach Claiborne has never come up to me and said, 'Boomer, you're my starting quarterback for the rest of the season,' " Esiason said. "He's left the door open. Not being sure is a good feeling to have. I know that if I make a mistake, there's somebody to take my position, just like that. It makes me work harder and play better."

Maryland's all-ACC tailback Charlie Wysocki, who has missed the last two games with a sprained right ankle, practiced with the first team yesterday with only a slight limp. "Missing two games is my limit," Wysocki said . . . John Nash, who gained 104 yards Saturday, still is listed as the third-team fullback behind Jeff Rodenberger and Joe Brkovich. But Nash could very well start at tailback or fullback depending upon the condition of Wysocki and tailback Willie Joyner, who is recovering from a groin pull.