In August 1980, Troy Island, a freshman tailback from Oxon Hill, impressed the Maryland football coaches. But school officials told Island he did not have the necessary 2.0 grade-point average from high school, and so he was dropped him from the team.

Island went to Ferrum Junior College in Roanoke for 1 1/2 years and, as he says, "improved my work habits and tried to mature."

Island returned to Maryland this summer. He brought back his outside speed -- 4.6 in the 40-yard dash -- but spent much of the preseason way down on the depth chart, at least low enough not to get much playing time with the varsity.

But because starting tailback Willie Joyner injured his toe against Penn State last week and may not be able to play Saturday at West Virginia, Island may get his big chance. He is still listed behind Vernon Carter, who will probably start. But after two years of waiting, Island can't wait to prove himself.

"This week will probably make or break me," Island said after yesterday's practice. "They've got their minds set on Vernon now, but I know I'm a game player. I hate to be a spectator."

Chances are, Island would be playing on Mountaineer Field Saturday even if it wasn't for the Terrapins.

"I almost went to West Virginia," Island said. "I didn't hear much from Maryland during my second year at Ferrum. And West Virginia kept close contact with me. But Coach (George) Foussekis called me before I had made up my mind and asked me about coming back. This is where I always wanted to be."

Island said he has tried to forget about the unpleasant experience of having to leave Maryland in 1980, but the memories are vivid.

"I was heartbroken," he said. "I cried all the way home. They (Coach Jerry Claiborne and staff) wanted me to go to military school so I would retain my eligibility, but I didn't want to. My parents were really hurt . . .

"That's why this chance to play is so important to me. Having had this experience, I think I've matured. I don't want to waste this chance."