Lenny Lynch, a fifth-year senior who has been around Maryland long enough to remember the bad times, looked around Byrd Stadium yesterday at the unprecedented number of television cameras and still photographers and quickly decided that this was the livin' end.
"This place is so full of energy. It's great to finally get the recognition we deserved," Lynch said. "We've come a long way, haven't we?"
The first day of practice for the upcoming season showed Maryland having come all the way to the top, at least according to the preseason prognosticators who have ranked the Terrapins as one of the top five teams in the country, and as high as No. 1.
The first day of practice -- half of it devoted to media interviews -- brought the kind of attention rarely seen before in College Park. Even Coach Bobby Ross, a candidate for the most understated man in America, said he felt "as excited, well actually more excited," than in his previous three years at Maryland.
"They're excited. I can sense an anticipation on their part," Ross said of his players. "I honestly believe, just looking at their weights and body structures, that they've made a good offseason preparation. And these picks and prognostications have excited our players into that preparation."
Not surprisingly, easily excitable junior linebacker Chuck Faucette was one of the most eager Terrapins. "This is it!" Faucette said. "I'm just so glad we're finally getting recognized. We usually don't get the respect we should. I want to be the team people are shooting at. We've never been in this position before, but I like it. Fine."
Faucette's enthusiasm might even withstand the two-a-day practices scheduled to begin this morning slightly before 9 o'clock.
The preseason forecasts merely reflect the fact that Maryland returns the nucleus of a team that won nine of 12 games last year, including the Atlantic Coast Conference title, the now legendary and NCAA record comeback at Miami and the Sun Bowl.
Whether the Terrapins finish No. 1 as Sport magazine and the Inside Sports power rankings suggest, No. 2 as ABC television predicts, or out of the running will be determined over the next three months.
But Maryland knows right now that it has a good team -- maybe its best team ever.
Ross is appropriately concerned about center, with John Perna out for perhaps three games following midsummer back surgery and David Amend not due to report until today because of a virus. And Ramon Parades is an untested replacement at place kicker for graduated Jess Atkinson.
But 10 of the offensive starters will be players who either started or played regularly last year, including fullback Rick Badanjek, left guard Lynch, 300-pound tackle J.D. Maarleveld, tight end Ferrell Edmunds, receiver Azizuddin Abdur-Ra'oof, and halfbacks Alvin Blount and Tommy Neal.
The Terrapins could use more depth in the defensive secondary. But the overall defense should be much better than a year ago, if only from experience. Nine defensive starters are back, not including five players who have started one game or more.
This, in fact, is Ross' most experienced team by far, providing the Terrapins not only with depth at almost every spot but the type of competition that should push the projected starters through two a days. Maryland has never had this many returning lettermen (49).
"The depth chart could change very easily," said Ross, who goes into today's practices with Sean Sullivan, a quality junior receiver, listed as third string; Tommy Parker, a former starter at guard, listed as No. 2; linebacker Bobby DePaul, once one of the team's best pass defenders, listed No. 3 while coming off a leg injury.
One fifth-year senior who has a lock on his position is quarterback Stan Gelbaugh, who said yesterday, "I've spent four years waiting for this. If I'm not ready to play this year, I'll never be ready . . . "
Ross agreed that he is in an envied position. "A lot of (coaches) would like to be in my shoes, just to have the opportunity," Ross said. "I've always wanted to get at least a 50-50 chance with every opponent. I've never been able to say that before."
Ross probably won't be saying as much about the season in the next few days. The team will practice in helmets-only the next four days, go to full pads Tuesday and begin to prepare specifically for Penn State a week from Saturday.
"We don't want to get too emotional about our season too early," Ross said. "I mentioned to them last night that we're not going to talk a lot about Penn State right now . . . We're gonna get down to the unattractive things of intercollegiate football:
"The getting up at 6 a.m., the watching of film, the running of sprints in the heat, the weight room, the 2 1/2-hour meetings . . . "
Lynch, who will serve as cocaptain with outside linebacker Scott Schankweiler, said he thought this team was going into two a days with good balance.
"Everybody's really excited, but we also have experienced guys," Lynch said. "With as much experience as we have, I don't see a problem with us not coming out as quickly as we'd like to have the past couple of years."
Someone asked Lynch if the high ranking could backfire. What could the pressure do to a team that isn't accustomed to such attention?
"There's no way we can sit back and go, 'Oh, there's so much pressure.' All those years . . . we weren't ranked but thought we should be.
"We want to be recognized. We're excited about it."