Maryland assistant coach George Foussekis had seen the big, lanky kid play, but what he remembers most about his first meeting with Ferrell Edmunds were those huge, shovel-like hands.

"His hands are like that," said Foussekis, spreading his own hands until they were about a foot apart. Edmunds has caught 30 passes this season, 96 for his four-year career (plus two in bowl games) and he likely will catch more next season in the National Football League.

At 6 feet 6 and 243 pounds, Edmunds is "pretty ideal" in his proportions, according to Dick Steinberg, the director of player development for the New England Patriots, who rates him as a potential first-round pick.

Clearly, he has come a long way to achieve that status. Edmunds, from Danville, Va., near the North Carolina border, is the eighth of Mary and Ferrell Edmunds Sr.'s nine children and the only one in the family to go to college. Edmunds Sr. works at a local mill and his wife works for part of the year at a tobacco factory.

"My father's worked there 23 years," Edmunds said proudly. "My parents have worked hard for the things we needed. People see me as this big kid who struggled {to get out of poverty}. But it didn't seem like that to me. I got the things I wanted. Maybe not when I asked, but in time. My mom always said that if you want something, to come and ask."

When Edmunds was at George Washington High, he lettered in football, basketball and track. The track events -- 200 meters, shot put and relays -- testified to his athletic ability. But the college recruiters didn't come to Danville to see him, at least at first. They were more interested in Al and then Keeta Covington, both of whom played at Maryland. Keeta and Edmunds were in the same class, but Edmunds was redshirted as a freshman at Maryland.

"Ferrell was big and he could run," Foussekis said. "Then I saw him playing basketball and was impressed watching him run up and down the court. Then everyone was high on him as a person."

Edmunds is quiet and shy. He still occasionally stutters, as do his two brothers, although that has improved with work and increased confidence. At different times in his college career, Edmunds has worked at Maryland's Hearing and Speech Sciences Clinic. "I asked {recruiters} if I could get help on my speech," Edmunds said.

"I was more shy and studied a lot more in high school," he added, comparing himself to the more outgoing Covingtons. "It was not a fear of speaking. I was just shy. As a junior and senior, I realized I had to overcome my shyness and be more outgoing. My grades were good enough {Bs and Cs, he said}. It was a matter of me really talking to people, to get to know them.

"My mom told me to always say what I have to say, no matter how long it takes me, because I have to be able to express myself. But I never worry about what other people say."

When Edmunds came to Maryland in the fall of 1983, he weighed under 220 pounds. Spread out over his 6-6 frame, he was skinny enough that his friends back home called him "Goose."

"In high school, sometimes you don't want to listen. You think you can compensate for weight with talent," Edmunds said. "I thought if I had good technique, it would be enough. But after a while, your body can't take the pounding, and after lifting weights, the things I started doing got a lot easier."

"He's always been an outstanding athlete," said Maryland tight end coach Jeff Mann. "What he's done, though, is work hard to make himself better. He's done the weight training, and his work habits are real good."

Although his blocking is not always as consistent as the coaches would like, Edmunds has thrown some crucial and crunching ones this season. Against Wake Forest, he launched a Demon Deacons player, who tumbled into an official. It looked like a game of dominoes.

With long legs, Edmunds runs a 4.58 40-yard dash, which allows him to run deep patterns. Those long legs, however, can make running the shorter patterns, which demand sharper, quicker cuts, more difficult for him.

The extra weight and some innate toughness have helped Edmunds start every game since the fourth one of his redshirt freshman season. That year, he caught 17 passes, then had 21 and 28 in successive years.

Edmunds' 1987 season, however, has been somewhat symbolic of the team's season. He is ahead of last year's reception pace and he has made some fine catches in traffic and in crucial situations. But several times, potentially big gains or critical first downs were missed after he was open and had passes slide through those big hands.

"Where we are is not the result of one guy," Coach Joe Krivak said of his 4-4 team. "Ferrell's probably caught more to this point than he did last year. He's had opportunities to do a lot of big things for us. But for one reason or another, they have not been done."

Edmunds doesn't deny he's dropped some passes. But he pointed to the North Carolina game as an example of his resiliency. In that game, he dropped a pass in the open that probably would have meant a touchdown. On the next series, he caught a 20-yard pass and ran another 53 yards into Tar Heels territory.

"It's disappointing to me," Edmunds said. "If you drop a pass, it's always a negative. But the game is 60 minutes. If you let one play bother you, you'll get nothing accomplished. When I make a mistake, I try to picture what happened, then I say to myself that it's over with. Then I try to make something happen. A big block or a big catch. Do something to spark the offense."

The NFL will hold its 1988 draft on April 24-25 and Edmunds likely will be selected early.

"The unusual feature is that he can get deep," said the Patriots' Steinberg. "That's what we're looking for because it takes some of the pressure off the wide receivers because they can't double them both with a safety."

Gil Brandt, the Dallas Cowboys' vice president for personnel development, said, "I think he's an excellent football player. He can block, catch the ball. He may drop one once in a while but he's an excellent football player. I think he'll be a fine pro. A team that needs a tight end can't miss with him."

Edmunds, who was an honorable-mention all-America the past two seasons, probably won't get top billing this season and isn't likely to be the first tight end picked because of Oklahoma's Keith Jackson. Some scouts say Edmunds' blocking has not been consistent enough to warrant him being picked in the first round. Others think more highly of him.

"It's rare that you have two that are that good," Steinberg said. "Typically, we might have only five or six on our whole board and maybe those don't even get drafted. But both of these guys could go in the upper half of the first round."

Edmunds has another important goal in mind. If he passes his classes this semester and gains another 13 hours of credit next semester, he will graduate in May with a general studies degree. His mother reminds him that he would be the first in the family to graduate from college.

To ensure that he's a high draft pick, he will need to finish the season strong and not drop passes in all-star games.

"I'm just trying to think about what I've got to do now," Edmunds said. "I want to be successful. This season is very meaningful to me. To me, football means a lot and graduating means a lot. I just want to be successful in life."