Maryland's varsity football players returned to College Park yesterday for a new season, and the prevailing theme was "regaining respect."

After all the first-day banter about the new coaches, new uniforms, new dormitories and new strategies, many of the Terrapins talked firmly of getting back the respect Maryland football had demanded before last year's 4-6-1 record.

"We've got to get our respect back," said Norman (Boomer) Esiason, the starting quarterback going into today's first practice. "People see Maryland on the schedule this year and say, 'Hey, they were 4-6-1 last year, no Charlie Wysocki this year; no problem with the Terps.'

"I'm sure down in Orange Country (Clemson) and Tar Heel Blue (North Carolina), they're excited," Esiason said. "But we've got guys growling. No more potbellies. We've got to get our respect back. My mouth is dry, I've been saying that so much today."

But as Esiason knows, talking won't get Maryland back to respectability. "The only way to get it back," said defensive back Billy McFadden, "is to be rugged and win some games."

Jesse Atkinson, the place kicker, said it's "ironic" that Rodney Dangerfield, a comedian noted for his I-don't-get-any-respect routine, was selected to promote Maryland football last year. "People are taking us pretty lightly," Atkinson said. "Maybe it's better that way. We've got a lot to prove."

Said tight end John Tice: "I wouldn't say we're the laughingstock of the area. But last year we'd come out and people wouldn't cheer. The school wasn't excited. We just can't afford to have that kind of lack of respect starting this year."

The Terrapins, under their new coach, Bobby Ross, will begin practice today when the team (115 players have reported) begins two-a-day workouts. Maryland has only three weeks to prepare for its first game, on Sept. 11, against Penn State. "I'm working for game day right now," Ross said.

Maryland will start with one of the best defensive lines in the nation, a good quarterback, question marks at running back and offensive line, no punter, a defensive secondary that was taken advantage of throughout last season and little depth.

"We're realistically optimistic," Esiason said.

For all the talk about new, unpredictable offenses and new promotions featuring actress Susan Anton, Ross knows there is much work to be done.

"Razzle-dazzle won't beat Penn State," he said. "We can't win games with gimmicks or new uniforms. Not even Susan Anton can win games, unless she can run and has good hands. But I am glad the players are excited. I think they feel challenged. They feel the need to get their respect back."