The University of Maryland football team calls it "dreading," and there is an epidemic right about now. Its symptoms: a tendency to hang one's head between one's knees in the locker room. Its cause: the start of two-a-day preseason practice.

"You gotta love it to get through it," Terrapins senior nose guard Rick Fleece said yesterday, the day before two-a-days begin. "You can't go in thinking, 'Oh, geez, I have to go through another of these things.' "

Fleece, a Terrapins cocaptain, said the epidemic tends to hit freshmen the hardest. "You'll see them in the locker room hanging their heads, and you'll go up to them and say something, and they'll say, 'Man, I wasn't dreading.' But you know they were."

For Coach Joe Krivak's team, two-a-days are the first step back to respectability after last year's 3-7-1 campaign. And that's how many of the players view it.

"Everybody knows what happened last year," said senior linebacker Karl Edwards. "We got slapped around a little bit . . . and we don't want that to happen again."

Many of the veteran Terrapins said they take it upon themselves to prepare the freshmen for the grueling two-a-day schedule.

"They come in here thinking it's going to be just like high school," said Edwards. "But they're in for a little lesson."

"They come in here with a chip on their shoulder because they were highly recruited," junior center Mitch Suplee said. "I was like that too. But it only takes one practice and they're the low man on the totem pole again."

There are many ways to approach the beginning of practice. Junior defensive tackle Larry Webster tries sarcasm. "We always live for two-a-days. The heat. The weather. We love it. And every once in a while, we might hope for a prayer of rain."

Some keep their eyes focused on the season opener, Sept. 1 against Virginia Tech. "Once we step out on this field for that season opener, it'll all be worth it," said senior quarterback Scott Zolak.

Others become combat brutal. Suplee salivates at the chance to hit someone. "During the summer, we have a strict running program, and by the time two-a-days start, you're sick of running around this track. You want to hit somebody pretty badly."

Suplee, it seems, really does look forward to two-a-days. "I love practice. I'm ready to go." But then he thinks about it again. "I don't know. Ask me again in two weeks. I'll probably give you another story."

Mostly, the players stress how they have it worst of all. Even the kickers.

"For kickers, it's even more of a pain in the neck," said Dan DeArmas. "We have to come out earlier than everyone else. And then after some pre-practice drills, we basically have to sit around and watch everyone until the end of practice, when we do some special teams work. It gets pretty boring."

Suplee scoffs when he hears DeArmas's claim. "I know life's tough for poor Dan," he said. "But like I told him, I'm going to send my first-born son to Uncle Dan's house and let Dan raise him, so he can be a kicker and do things the right way and have an easy life."