Frank Costello, the University of Maryland's conditioning coach, and Greg Williams, who coaches defensive backs, stood in the middle of the AstroTurf practice field, staring first at their stopwatches and then at each other in disbelief.
Thirty-three freshmen reported for testing and the first day of football practice yesterday morning at Maryland. And after two hours, the coaching staff pronounced the freshman class of '83 to be the fastest ever at Maryland.
"Without question, it's the fastest group of kids we've ever had," said Costello, who might know a little bit about speed, having developed Renaldo Nehemiah, among others, in seven years as the Terrapins' track coach. "Today was the first time I've seen these kids. Several of them have raw speed. I was real impressed."
Coach Bobby Ross, a small smile showing he was also impressed, cautioned that "speed alone doesn't make them good football players."
The rest of the staff members could hardly contain their glee over Azizuddin Abdur-Ra'oof, a wide receiver from Millersville, Md., who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds. Costello and Williams did a double take.
"What did you get, Frank?" Williams asked Costello, not really believing his own watch.
"What did you get, Greg?" Costello asked, just as skeptically. It was decided Abdur-Ra'oof had run between 4.37 and 4.38.
Abdur-Ra'oof, a quarterback and track star at Northeast High, said one of his goals is to earn playing time as a freshman. That would please Terrapin quarterback Boomer Esiason, who recruited him.
Alvin Blount, a running back/defensive back from Eleanor Roosevelt High, ran the 40 in 4.45.
The fastest varsity players, which include Willie Joyner, Spencer Scriber and Bobby Gunderman, have times around 4.5. "But those freshmen will outdo the varsity," Costello said. "I've always said Maryland needed more speed. There were a lot of 4.6s, and guys with not much technique who ran 4.7s."
But Ross and Costello were quick to point out that many of the freshmen weren't the strongest. "The times (running) we were pleased with," Ross said. "But the weights--they'll have to get into it. They're big enough, all right."
Costello said, "They're not real strong, but we can get them strong. That's fairly easy. They're typical freshmen in terms of strength, several of them don't have much leg strength. But a guy like Ferrell (Edmonds, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound tight end) doesn't have strong legs, but he still runs in the neighborhood of 4.7. I love that."
Ross, before he began recruiting, said he would search for athletes with speed, which is a change in focus from the last decade, when Maryland had players who excelled in the weight room but rarely had a running back with better than 4.7 speed in the 40.
Besides running the 40, the first-year players were put through the cone drill, which tests agility; the vertical jump; the bench press, and the squat thrust.
James Milling, a receiver from Potomac High School, and Keeta Covington, another receiver, from Danville, Va., didn't test yesterday because they are recuperating from minor injuries suffered in all-star games. But they are both very fast, and could boost the number of 4.5 freshmen to six.