Don Sadler becomes embarrassed when people talk about the sacrifice he made for the University of Maryland lacrosse team his freshman year.

Sadler, now a senior captain for the Terrapins, said he made the switch from midfield to defense four years ago less out of a magnanimous spirit than out of the desire to play--anywhere.

"It was no big sacrifice. It was just a way to get out on the field," said Sadler, who has a team-leading eight assists this season for the Terrapins (5-0). "I said, 'Just let me get out on the field. I don't care where. It's better playing than sitting on the bench any day.' "

But once Sadler assumed the role as the team's defensive stalwart, he had trouble getting out of it. After starring for two years on defense--he was an honorable-mention all-America in 1980--Sadler thought his chance to get back into the offense would finally come last year.

Two games into the season, defenseman Curtis Rountree injured his knee, and Sadler moved into his position. After that, as fast as one defenseman would stop limping and rejoin the lineup, another would get hurt. Sadler spent the whole year on defense, where he earned all-Atlantic Coast Conference and honorable-mention all-America honors.

His only respite last season came on extra-man offensive situations, when he moved to midfield to score two goals and total 34 assists.

"It got awful frustrating sometimes, having to watch from the other end of the field on a fast break. It was just depressing," said Sadler, who went to high school at Wroxeter in Severna Park, Md. "Every time I got the chance on defense last year, I'd get out in front and lead the break. That's my kind of lacrosse."

Sadler is fourth on the team in points this year, but has scored only four goals. Five players, including Jim Wilkerson (18 goals), Tim Worstell (15) and Dave Guill (11), have outscored him.

"He (Sadler) is one of a very few players who could have gone and played both positions," said Maryland Coach Dino Mattessich. "He's a good athlete, and he's made the adjustment with no difficulty."

"I guess I'm a jack-of-all-trades. There are certainly guys on this team with a lot more raw talent than me. I'm not good at anything, but I do just a little bit of everything good," Sadler said. "I'm not the guy to go to for the shot in a clutch situation. I've never been a prolific scorer. I pride myself on giving the ball up.

"Every year, it's been a different challenge for me. It seems like the team always needs a little something to pull it out of trouble and I provide it," he said.

The little thing Sadler has given Maryland this year is experience. The team, seeking its 13th NCAA title and ninth ACC championship in 11 years, lost all-Americas Pete Worstell and Ron Martinello from last year's 10-5 team. Klay Johnson, an all-America midfielder last season, also graduated. Wilkerson, who scored 33 goals and 20 assists last season, is the only returnee from last spring's starting attack line.

The young Terrapins, who predictably coasted through their first five games, must now take on four of the best teams in the country in a 22-day span beginning Saturday at North Carolina. They will meet Virginia April 10 at home and Navy April 17 at home before visiting Johns Hopkins April 24.

"We're so young; we're still looking for some consistency," Mattessich said. "Our best lacrosse is still ahead of us."

Although they're young, the Terrapins are probably improved as a team over last season, when they were forced to rely almost exclusively on Worstell and Martinello.

"This year, we're a bunch of no-names," Sadler said. "But we can't all be big-name scorers. You have to have some guys willing to give up the ball and do things for the sake of the team; otherwise you won't be champions. I like to think I'm one of those guys."