People have been known to raise an eyebrow, maybe two, when told the number of tackles credited to Maryland linebacker Eric Wilson for a single football game.

Against Syracuse in the season opener, Wilson was credited with 20 tackles. Also this season, he had 20 against West Virginia. Last year, against Pittsburgh, Wilson had 27 tackles, and linebacking teammate Bobby DePaul marveled, "The amazing thing about that performance was that he missed two."

With four games to play in his senior year, Wilson already is Maryland's all-time leading tackler with 418, moving past the likes of Randy White and Neal Olkewicz.

"We think he's as good as anybody in the country," Maryland Coach Bobby Ross has said on more than one occasion.

Ross was asked yesterday about all those tackles credited to Wilson, numbers that cause skepticism among those who don't see him play every Saturday.

"I know," Ross said. "They think we give him tackles. How could we give him tackling points in the presence of other players? That would cheapen it for Eric and for the other players."

For those who need more convincing, Ross invites them to look at game film of the player whom teammate and fellow linebacker Chuck Faucette calls "The Man on defense for Maryland."

Wilson, 6 feet 3, 248 pounds, leads his team with 93 tackles. North Carolina's leading tackler, linebacker Troy Simmons, has 71 tackles. Virginia's Charles McDan-iel also has 71.

Wilson, in addition, is the defensive captain, calls his unit's signals, plays almost every down and comes close to being irreplaceable.

"I can't say enough about that guy," Ross said. "He's like a son to me; I really mean that. He's one of the most team-oriented guys I've ever been around. He's easily one of the most coachable. He's productive, too. So I guess he grades out about as well as a person can."

The only area where Wilson doesn't grade out as well as he'd like is speed. The number of tackles Wilson makes is even more astounding considering that his time in the 40-yard dash is only between 4.9 and 5.0.

"Some people -- the pro scouts -- feel like he doesn't run as well as some of the other linebackers in the country," Ross said. "The NFL is very statistically oriented, and it has to be.

"But I think what's more important in Eric's case is that he's so instinctive," Ross said. "He gets to the ball. And his tackles aren't right at him."

Wilson wants to play professional football, and knows what scouts have said about his lack of speed.

"I know my speed hasn't been to my liking, either," Wilson said, "and that makes it tough on me. I can't make one false step. And I have to make quicker reads.

"But you know what? On game days I feel as fast as anybody. I stay with the backs in man coverage. In the offseason I plan to work with Frank Costello (the conditioning coach) to get my time down.

"But overall, that's something I can't control," he continued. "I know what I can control, things like pregame preparation, concentration, communicating with the other defensive players. I don't want to be deficient in any of the areas I can control."

For Ross and Maryland -- if not for the pro scouts -- that's enough. "The guy's got great intensity and he's never, not ever, not once, been deficient in effort," Ross said.

"There have been some plays where he's been tired, and he probably should have come out for a play or two. But I've said, 'Eric, we need you in there real bad.' And he says, 'Yes sir,' and goes back in and stops a guy at the line of scrimmage.

"I wouldn't call him an overachiever; he's got a lot of talent and athletic ability," said Ross, who for four years was an assistant coach with the Kansas City Chiefs. "You watch him and you'll see a guy who's fluid and has a lot of natural motion. I think he's a high-round draftable player."

Despite the lack of great speed, Wilson has always been a standout athlete. He played football and basketball at Charlottesville (Va.) High and was the school's first player to have his football jersey retired.

Wilson was good enough in basketball to average 27 points a game at Five-Star camp after his freshman year in high school. But 6-3 forwards don't get many big-time college basketball offers, so Wilson joined his brother Mark, a defensive end, at Maryland in 1981.

Wilson, even as a kid, idolized linebackers: "Nitschke, Butkus, Tom Jackson and all those Denver guys, and Lee Roy Jordan."

It's a wonder Wilson didn't become a musician. His father has made his living as a jazz musician, with his own quartet -- "88 Keys Wilson" -- for 30 years.

"The closest I could get was buying music and being a disc jockey," said Wilson, who is one of the leading DJs on the College Park campus. His room is like a stereo showcase, storing six speakers, two turntables, a mixer, two tape decks, etc.

Ross' only complaint about Wilson, in fact, concerns music. "I've been trying to get him to play some country and western for me," Ross said.

"I've got a little country in my room," Wilson said. "But I've got to check his collection. I think he wants me to play some Waylon Jennings."

If Wilson can play against North Carolina Saturday the way he did last year (19 tackles), Ross may listen to anything Wilson wants to play.

"I've got just four more regular-season games left," Wilson said. "And I'd like to really finish up well. When I came here, I had hopes, like any high school player. There are a lot of good linebackers who had played at Maryland, and it's great to be mentioned with them."