Football futurists are fond of saying that before long, there will be players the size of linemen with the speed of receivers who blur the distinction of basic positions.

The University of Maryland already has such a player, big enough to be a lineman, skilled enough to be a tight end, fast enough to play wide receiver. Ferrell Edmunds, 6 feet 6, 238 pounds, can run a 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds.

Maryland's starting tight end is entering his redshirt sophomore season, and the college football world soon will be aware of an athlete so gifted that before long he could be the nation's best at his position.

Even though Edmunds is one of the lesser known members of the Terrapins' highly touted offense, he is the only one with such talent that several of the team's coaches say they never have seen a tight end like him.

Edmunds became a starter four games into last season. But one week into two-a-day practices at College Park, usually understated quarterback Stan Gelbaugh is calling Edmunds "The Franchise."

Maryland Coach Bobby Ross allowed his thoughts to run back through 30 years of playing or coaching college and pro football and finally said, "Ferrell clearly runs the best of any tight end I've ever been around."

Edmunds, a third-year sophomore, doesn't just run. To put his 40-yard dash time in perspective, there are teams in the National Football League that don't have receivers who run a 4.5.

Frank Costello, the Maryland strength coach and former track coach, puts Edmunds in the same category with Olympian Renaldo Nehemiah -- one of his former track pupils -- as a rare athlete.

"Ferrell has physical gifts that place him, of course, in a very small percentage of the general population," Costello said. "But his talents are so extraordinary it even places him in a small percentage of all athletes.

"He has truly unusual speed for a man that size, and a vertical leap (about 35 inches) that reflects extreme power and thrust. He could have been a 7-foot high jumper or a quarter-miler or even a high hurdler.

"I've never seen a tight end like him," Costello said. "Every time he works out, I just marvel. And he hasn't even come close to reaching his potential physically, which is definitely frightening."

Growing up in Danville, Va., with current Maryland defensive backs Al and Keeta Covington, Edmunds was big but not much more.

"Sometimes now, I wonder why I can do certain things," Edmunds said. "It amazes me because I can remember when I was slow. In junior high, Keeta's mom nicknamed me 'Turtle' because in Little League I'd hit a ball to the fence and get thrown out at second.

"I was just this big, lanky guy who was barely moving," Edmunds said. "And I seemed even slower because I hung around all these fast guys, like Keeta and Al, who could move lickety-split. But in high school, all of a sudden one day I could run and everybody was calling me, 'Goose.' It makes me wonder now if I was just lazy at first, because speed doesn't come just like that."

Ross and his staff were in Danville recruiting Keeta Covington. "And we kept seeing this other guy," Ross recalled. "We had suspicions he could be this good because he could run so well.

"Sometimes you can look at a guy and say, 'Here's a diamond in the rough.' If he lives the right life, works hard and stays on top of things, there's great, great potential.

"When he got here he weighed only 213 pounds," Ross said. "He was just this tall, skinny, rawboned youngster we knew could run real well."

Basketball Coach Lefty Driesell also recognized a rare talent and inquired about Edmunds, a freshman at the time, playing for him. Edmunds had been his high school's center. "I loved basketball, but my football coach told me that at 6-6, I'd just be average size, like a big guard. I knew my future was in football."

Edmunds was redshirted as a freshman, but improved so much last season that he couldn't be kept out of the lineup. He became a starter against Wake Forest, in the fourth game last fall, and caught a touchdown in the game. He had at least one reception in each of the final nine games to finish with 17 catches for 234 yards.

The number of ways he could be used in the offense this year almost is unlimited. Besides having the speed of a receiver, he has soft, large hands.

Greg Williams, who coaches the Maryland defensive secondary, said jokingly, "My guys see him coming and turn and run the other way."

Edmunds' two weaknesses last year were blocking and flexibility. But he worked all summer to improve both, and apparently has done so.

"He has improved his blocking to the point that he's going to be a good blocker," Ross said.

Overcoming a lack of flexibility might be a bigger problem, but something Edmunds should be able to overcome, according to Costello. "He's very tight between the heel and knee, and he had a little trouble getting into his stance at one point.

"But you're talking about something that can be worked out. It's not like some kid coming to me saying, 'I'm slow.' His flexibility has improved, and will improve. And I believe he can add 15 or 20 pounds to his frame and still run a 4.5."

Edmunds said he got faster since last year because he took up distance running over the summer. "I figured if I got good at distance running, I'd be in better shape and run my sprints better," he said. "I'm in midseason shape right now."

Edmunds, a hard-working 20-year-old, laughed when he thought about how much progress he has made since freshman year. "I was weak in all phases (of the team's fitness testing) when I came in. I've got a lot of work to do in some areas."

Edmunds said his football idol has been Kellen Winslow, the San Diego Chargers tight end who changed the entire philosophy of the position. "He can do unbelievable things that nobody else has ever done," said Edmunds.

"I hear people comparing me to him, and it's an honor. It's all real hard for me to believe."