The autumn was once a golden time for Maryland's Charlie Wysocki.
As he piled up rushing yards like fallen leaves and exhibited uncommon durability as one of the nation's best tailbacks the last two seasons, the Terrapins won football games.
But now, the bill of his cap is pulled down over much of Wysocki's face, perhaps to hide the frustration and depression that has turned his senior year at College Park into a trying time.
Injuries, which have not troubled him before, have kept Wysocki on the bench half this season. Maryland has won only one of five games. For the first time in his football career, Wysocki is learning how to deal with the dog days.
"I don't understand it," Wysocki said yesterday. "This summer, I lifted weights, I ran, I got my speed down. In previous years, I just went on natural ability. The harder you work, the more it should pay off. But right now, it's not.
"I'm very depressed, I'm frustrated, and it's hard to accept. I've never been injured as much as I've been this year. I can't really find the words to describe what I'm feeling."
"My mom and dad talk to me, and they try to get me back up," he said. "They remind me of my sophomore year, when I played three games hurt and missed two more but I came back (to finish with 1,140 yards) and helped the team. But this has been tougher on me. I really have to do something to pull myself back up."
Wysocki's troubles started in the fourth quarter of the season opener at Vanderbilt. Wysocki gained 104 yards, but severely sprained his right ankle as Maryland lost. He missed the next two games.
"Missing two games is my limit," he said then. "I'm hungry."
Maryland fans proclaimed, "Wysocki's back!" after he ran for 172 yards in the Terps' tie with Syracuse two weeks ago. But Wysocki knew better.
"I wasn't that happy after that game," he said yesterday. "I should have gained 200 yards the way the offensive line was blocking. I was favoring my ankle in the first half and everybody noticed. People would come over to me on the sideline and say, 'Don't worry Charlie, just follow your blockers. You'll feel better.' I did much better in the second half, but I still felt like I was losing."
After a bruised shoulder forced Wysocki to miss the second half of Maryland's most recent defeat, at Florida, teammates described Wysocki as "grumbly" and "not in the mood to talk."
His left shoulder is expected to be well enough for Wysocki to play Saturday against Wake Forest.
In addition to worrying about Maryland's poor start, Wysocki is concerned about his future as a professional athlete -- "something I've dreamed about since childhood.
"I've always wanted a future in pro football," he said, staring into the dark Cole Field House. "I still believe in myself. But I was hoping for so much for this senior year. It's like in high school when you're trying to impress a college for a scholarship. There's a lot of pressures.
"I think this is my time to learn to deal with disappointment. It's like a crisis. Maybe I'll be better off later in life for this experience."
Coach Jerry Claiborne said yesterday he told Wysocki to stop worrying. "He's not letting us down," Claiborne said. "He's been our bread and butter on offense for two years. It's got to be disappointing for him. But he's injured. He just had to get well, that's all. Lord, yes, he's still an important part of this team."
Wysocki said he isn't troubled by comments such as those made Saturday by quarterback Norman Esiason, who said that without Wysocki, the Terrapin lineup loses some of its ball control ability but is more diversified.
"Those comments don't bother me. Against some teams we need to control the football. Against some teams, we need a more varied attack. I never said I was the offense, or 'as Wysocki goes, Maryland goes.' People have written that, but I've never said it."
With six games left, there is time for a Wysocki turnaround. Running against a young, vulnerable Wake Forest defense could do wonders for Wysocki's -- and Maryland's -- confidence.
"Right now, I have to get my mind on this business-law exam coming up," Wysocki said. "The whole thing is something I have to deal with myself. I just want to get myself healthy and contribute again. I don't think it's over for me."
Fullback Jeff Rodenberger will miss Saturday's game in Winston-Salem, N.C., with a slightly separated left shoulder. Willie Joyner, who played well in relief of Wysocki, will not practice this week because of a pulled groin. Offensive tackle Les Boring has a sore ankle and did not practice yesterday. If the running back situation does not improve, Vernon Carter, a freshman defensive end, may play as a tailback. John Nash may play both tailback and fullback.