As the Maryland Terrapins blew chance after chance last football season, losing three games by four points and tying one, backup quarterback Scott Zolak wanted nothing more than to be given a chance to right the team's wrongs. But he kept his thoughts to himself.

"We were killing ourselves -- making mistakes, shooting ourselves in the foot. You see some situations where you think you can do a better job," said Zolak. "I thought that sometimes. But the coaches know what they're doing."

This year Zolak will get his chance. Last year's main man, Neil O'Donnell, has moved on to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Zolak is Coach Joe Krivak's undisputed starter.

"It's my team now," said Zolak.

It is Zolak's team in more ways than one. At the end of spring practice, his teammates elected him and nose guard Rick Fleece co-captains. For Zolak, it emphasized what he already knew: He had to be the team's offensive leader.

"So far, it's just a title," said Zolak, a senior business management major from Monongahela, Pa. "It just means I go out {to the 50-yard line before the game} for the coin toss. It's an honor, because it shows my teammates are behind me. But even if I wasn't the captain, I would still move and motivate this offense."

At 6 feet 5, he has at least one thing in his favor. Asked whether Zolak gives the team anything the 6-3 O'Donnell couldn't, Krivak said, "Yeah, two inches."

But Zolak's height is only his second-best physical attribute. His powerful right arm, some say, is the strongest in recent Maryland history -- stronger than O'Donnell's, stronger than Dan Henning's, stronger than Boomer Esiason's.

Zolak is not the most mobile quarterback. "I'm what they call the 'classic drop-back passer,' " he said. "I'm not much of a roll-out, sprinting, scrambling, option quarterback. But that's why I came to Maryland -- the reputation Coach Krivak has of developing pro-style quarterbacks."

Said Krivak: "Scott Zolak has all the tools to be a great quarterback. But now he has got to do it. We're giving him the opportunity."

Zolak knows he can't do it by himself, and his offensive supporting cast isn't the best, with only two of last year's starters returning. But he said that what the team lacks in experience it makes up for in desire.

"We have a lot of guys that want it this year," he said. "In the past, we had some returning starters with an attitude problem . . . people who just wanted to show up for the games. But I don't feel that way at all about this year's team. The guys are all excited. We have people now that look forward to practice."

As O'Donnell's backup last season, Zolak appeared in eight games, completing 33 of 69 passes for 407 yards, with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He had his best effort against Michigan, in a game the Terrapins lost by 41-21. Zolak played the fourth quarter and was 11 of 15 for 123 yards and a touchdown.

Toward the end of the season, Zolak could not help but think about the future, especially the 1990 season, when he would become the starter. He said he is not thinking about the NFL, even though with his height and arm, he would seem a natural for the pro game. He said making it as a college quarterback has always been his goal.

Terrapins Notes: Junior David Dunne, who had been expected to be the team's starting left tackle, will have surgery Friday to repair a torn left pectoral muscle and will miss the season. Dunne was injured while bench-pressing last Friday.