The chalkboard is something of a symbol for Maryland quarterbacks. It doesn't immediately strike you as something that would be a symbol. It's not made of gold or silver or bronze or any other particularly valuable material. It's just a hunk of slate with a wood frame.

This is a portable chalkboard, maybe 2 feet high and 3 feet wide. It gets carted around the practice field. The people doing most of the carting are the freshmen quarterbacks, although an upperclassman or two have toted it. When the offense is working as a unit, the rookies scribble the play on the board and show it to the rest of the offensive players. It's not the kind of job that's going to impress many girls, but it is how you earn your place as a Terrapin quarterback.

"Hey, all the other guys have had their turn in the barrel," Scott Zolak said with a smile.

"I remember a lot of cold days," Neil O'Donnell said of late-season chalkboard duty. "It's part of the process."

O'Donnell, a redshirt sophomore, and Zolak, a redshirt freshman, are pretty well past the chalkboard phase of their collegiate careers. They are in the backup phase.

The 6-2 1/2, 204-pound O'Donnell solidified his hold on the second spot behind starter Dan Henning with a strong performance in the spring game in which he completed 13 of 18 passes for 203 yards and three touchdowns.

"Dan has been to war," O'Donnell said after yesterday morning's practice. "He's proven he can start and lead the team. I'm hoping we'll do well so I can get in at the end of games."

If Henning became injured, Maryland coaches seem reasonably confident one of the pair behind him could do the job.

"You've got to play with what you've got," Coach Joe Krivak said. "But I wouldn't brood over it."

"Neil is in quite a good rhythm," said Jim Cavanaugh, the Terrapins' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. "His throws and timing are good. A quarterback is like a golfer when they hit that rhythm. Scott has improved his footwork immensely and his drops and ball-handling are much smoother."

The quarterback ranks thinned considerably last year, when sophomore Drew Komlo transferred to Catholic and freshman Gary McIntosh transferred to the Naval Academy.

"I was splitting time with Drew on the second team," O'Donnell said. "Now I'm with the second team all by myself and I feel a lot more confident. I know the offense inside and out. People look up to me and listen to me more. When I was splitting with Drew, there was not one person who took control."

O'Donnell will have two years of eligiblity remaining after this season and he expects to be playing.

"Like all quarterbacks at Maryland, I started out on the scout team, worked hard to improve and waited my turn to play," O'Donnell said. "I paid my dues. I think I could run the team now. So next year I will be even more fired up than this year."

The scout team runs the upcoming opponent's plays during practice. It's very unglamorous, but also very necessary to prepare for a game. After starting three years at Ringgold High School in Monongahela, Pa., the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Zolak spent last season running enemy plays.

"It can get discouraging, but you have to be patient," Zolak said. "Right now, I'm still learning. I think I'm adapting well to the system. This spring, with only three of us, I got a lot more {repetitions} and got the timing down with the varsity receivers.

"I will get a lot more experience {this season} working with Dan and Neil. I'll be around Coach Cavanaugh more than last year when I spent more time with the scout team."

Assuming he remains at No. 3, Zolak's chances of getting in a game this season are improved over a year ago, but they've hardly taken a quantum leap.

"I doubt it," Zolak said. "Dan's very consistent. He stays in the pocket well, he's a tough kid and he can take a hit."

Next spring and next season are another matter. "I want to challenge for the job next spring," Zolak said. "Hopefully, I'll be ready."

Paul Romanchock and Jim Sandwisch are the freshmen this year, and thus will spend much of the season running another team's offense and wiping chalk from their hands. Zolak said he didn't bother to offer any advice to the new keepers of the board.

"Coach Cavanaugh just told them to grab the board," Zolak said. "I think they knew it was their turn."