Thousands of high school football players from across the country will sign national letters of intent today, signifying their desire to attend a particular school.

High school seniors -- many of whom have been getting mail and phone calls from coaches for years -- can put the recruiting process to rest with the stroke of a pen. NCAA rules stipulate that once an athlete signs the letter of intent, other schools cannot continue to recruit him. Many will sign today and most will sign in the first few days, but the signing period extends until April 1.

"You think you have people committed," said one college coach, "but sometimes you never know until they actually do it."

The traditional powers again are expected to gather bumper crops of young players -- after all, that's how they got to be traditional powers in the first place.

Notre Dame is expected to sign several of the nation's top 100 players, but UCLA will get Kevin Williams, the running back from Spring, Tex., considered by many to be the best player in the nation. But then, as Williams' coach, Dale Baker, said, "It's kind of hard to know who really is the best player in the country."

Williams is a 6-foot-2, 195-pounder who chose UCLA over Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma because he wanted to run out of the I-formation, according to Baker.

The national champion Miami Hurricanes are likely to get signatures from two Washington-area players. Forestville wide receiver Leslie Shepherd will join the Hurricanes, according to his coach, Eric Knight, after having also visited Purdue, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Teammate Rico Marshall, a 5-11, 205-pound running back who originally wanted to go to Maryland, decided to sign with South Carolina. Forestville outside linebacker Greg Liberty will sign with Temple.

Miami is hoping it will have an easier time throwing the ball to Shepherd with the presence of Riverdale Baptist's Dale London. The 6-5, 320-pound London also had considered Maryland, Syracuse and Liberty University.

"There weren't any negatives with Maryland," said London's coach, Ted Knapp. "Miami's pluses outweighed Maryland's."

Though big linemen are always in demand and Maryland needs them as much as anyone, the Terrapins needed running backs and it appears they will sign several.

"We've tried to help ourselves in some areas," Maryland Coach Joe Krivak said. "I think we'll do that if everything works out."

Andre Vaughn, a 6-3, 195-pound running back from Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, Md., is expected to sign today, as is fullback Darren Colvin of Aberdeen, Md. Colvin is 6-3, 227 pounds and also was considering Syracuse, Virginia, Ohio State and Penn State.

"I think Andre wanted to stay close to home so his family could see him play," said Aberdeen Coach Ken Klock. "Maryland put a high priority on running backs and they felt Andre was a big running back with speed to break long runs."

Virginia, meanwhile, has gotten a commitment from St. Albans linebacker Yusef Jackson. The 6-3, 215-pound son of presidential candidate Jesse Jackson chose Virginia over Richmond, Rutgers, Wake Forest and William and Mary.

"I encouraged him to go to Virginia," said St. Albans Coach Dick Allanson. "I think it's a very good program and we have a couple kids down there now."

Ballou wide receiver Tre Everett said yesterday he would choose Florida over Clemson.

"Climate and family," the 5-11, 160-pound Everett said when asked why he chose the Gators, adding that his grandparents live in Gainesville. "It was just a matter of where I felt most comfortable. Florida had the support system and there was a good opportunity to play my first year."

Penn State, famous for its linebackers, will sign Brett Wright (6-2, 225 pounds) out of McDonough.

Syracuse's successful season paid off in its recruiting, as the Orangemen will get a signature from 6-4, 225-pound defensive tackle Garland Hawkins of DeMatha, which will have five players sign letters of intent today.