Howard's Sandy Nichols is determined. The starting quarterback the last two seasons, Nichols enters his senior year wanting to lift the Bison out of mediocrity.

"It's about time we seniors did something," he said yesterday at Howard's annual football press day. "I'm tired of losing. I'm tired of finishing 6-5 and losing close games.

"But Coach (Joe) Taylor has a winning attitude, and he has tried to give this to the freshmen coming in," Nichols continued, gesturing as proof toward a bleacherful of laughing, clowning first-year players. "We want to win. We have the talent and everybody is very optimistic."

Optimism seems to be the word at Howard this year, as first-year Coach Taylor seeks to instill a winning attitude into players who were stung with consecutive 50-0 and 62-3 defeats last year.

"The biggest change anyone will see is attitudinal," said Taylor, Howard's defensive coordinator last year. "I'm sure all these players know what winning is, but they have begun to accept something less. It's my job to change that."

Taylor has helped bring in 35 new players in his two seasons at Howard, but said he won't hurry to replace veteran players with those he has recruited.

"I don't believe in having 'my' players as opposed to 'somebody else's'," said Taylor, who was the offensive line coach for Eastern Illinois' 1978 Division II championship team. "I don't really have any kind of system, either. I want this team to just play four aggressive quarters each game, and we'll win some games."

Taylor stressed a rigorous offseason conditioning program, and many of the players feel the team is more physically fit than it has been in recent years.

"Coach Taylor is hard. He makes you work," said Robert Day, a sophomore center from Silver Spring. "But he's fair. If you work hard, you'll play."

Dennis Burrell, a freshman defensive back from Baltimore, thinks the team's enthusiasm is its strong point. "Everybody's ready to play," he said. "Everybody wants to win."