Maryland's starting punter for the season opener against Penn State in 12 days will be either a kicker who has broken his foot four times in the last year, a tight end who last punted in high school, or a walk-on.

Of the three players competing for the job, sophomore Alan Sadler is ahead, with junior walk-on Glenn Watson and second-team tight end Ron Fazio in contention.

Sadler has a very strong right leg and is the only candidate with game experience, but he has broken the fifth metatarsal in his left foot four times: twice playing basketball, once running on the football field, and most recently, this summer while walking on the golf course.

"The only way he can break it again," trainer J.J. Bush said yesterday, "is to break the stainless steel screw Dr. (Stanford) Lavine put in recently. If it's not one thing it's another with this guy. He broke a bone in his wrist during spring practice and was scared to get it X-rayed."

Sadler, when healthy, can be effective. He punted 17 times last year (Steve Adams, a senior was the first-stringer) for a net average of 36 yards, with one punt of 68 yards. Only five of his punts were returned.

"Sadler might have the lead right now," Coach Bobby Ross said, "but only because he's had game experience before."

Watson, a junior from New Carrollton, "hits it pretty well," Ross said. Fazio, who could play a lot this year at tight end, behind John Tice, is at a disadvantage because he can't devote all his time to punting.

"All three are fairly close," said Ross, "but so far, they've primarily been working on form and timing. Now, they've got to work more with a center on taking the snap and the rhythm. I don't know how'll they'll react to a game situation."

Ross, who has evaluated the team very candidly this fall, said he doesn't think the punters are behind, with less than two weeks to prepare for Penn State, but added, "they are where they have to be."

"All three of us are capable," said Fazio. "But so far this fall, none of us has worked in a game situation, from snap to punt-rush, to kicking. We haven't faced the pressure of a punt rush, which is very important. Punting is such a basic play, but it has to be worked on, in all phases. Where else can you gain 40 yards per play?"

Fazio, who was a punter most of his youth, said he walked into the football building one day and found his name on the depth chart at punter. Fazio has good technique and good hang time on his kicks, but said yesterday he is inconsistent. "I've got to be ready to play tight end," he said. "But I don't think the situation is far from being solved. Alan will probably be the starter. But I'll keep myself ready for whatever the coaches want."

What Ross wants more than anything from his punting coverage is to reverse last year's net average statistics. Maryland's opponents averaged 38 yards per punt, while the Terrapins averaged 34.6. "That three yards is a significant number," Ross said. "We have to have that on our side."