Please forgive Scott Zolak if he doesn't grow uncontrollably giddy at the thought of becoming the next great Maryland quarterback. While excitement may be a natural inclination for the fifth-year senior, there is more to his dream than replacing Neil O'Donnell, Frank Reich, Stan Gelbaugh, Dan Henning or -- dare we say it? -- the Boomer.

As a product of western Pennsylvania, his legacy runs toward a quarterback's idea of Mount Olympus -- Joe Namath, Dan Marino and Joe Montana, each an area native.

"Montana is from the same high school {Ringgold} that I went to. He set a great example for me," Zolak said. "In western Pennsylvania, those are just names that you hear all the time. When you're growing up, anyone who has ability, their dad takes them out into the back yard to see if they can become a quarterback -- I don't think there's any kid there who doesn't have a bedroom with a picture of one of them on the wall."

There are some who predict the same future for Zolak. At 6 feet 5 and 221 pounds, he has the classic size, and his arm may be stronger than any of the aforementioned Terrapins. But potential has meant little up to now; when he takes his first snap against Virginia Tech on Saturday, it will be his first as a starter; his first completion of the year will be just his 46th; his first touchdown pass only his third.

"Personally, I don't feel like I've even played college football yet," he said. "That's like all the other Maryland quarterbacks -- I know they're there but what they've done in the past doesn't have anything to do with this season.

"I'm not afraid. I've been looking forward to this for eight years. I've thought about plays that will happen, visualized throwing touchdowns, scoring points -- especially in big games. I think I'm ready -- I just hope everybody else feels the same way."

After sitting for four seasons, Zolak probably would have moved to linebacker if he thought it would get him onto the field. One of the Maryland coaches likened his approach to the preseason to bouncing off the walls, the antithesis of one's perception of a quarterback.

In his defense, Zolak points out that firing up his teammates is a means of firing up himself for action and that, after four years of mediocre play, an injection of enthusiasm could be what the Terrapins need. His teammates, who voted him a cocaptain despite his inexperience, obviously agree. Perhaps more importantly, so does Coach Joe Krivak, who said no one on the staff has any plans to harness the quarterback's energy.

"There's no way we'd ever do that. We're going to let him go," said Krivak. "We're all very excited about him. We used to see that kind of spark with Boomer Esiason. He had that same enthusiasm, the desire to play. You love to coach those kinds of guys."

When Krivak brought Esiason, the Cincinnati Bengals' all-star quarterback, back to College Park this spring, it was with Zolak in mind. The two talked of how best to utilize the senior's skills -- as well as how to protect him behind a very raw offensive line.

The end result may be a one-back, run-and-shoot-type offense. With a deeper, more talented group of wide receivers than running backs, the setup would get Maryland's best players onto the field more often and the quick nature of the passing -- three steps and throw -- would mean that the inexperienced linemen wouldn't have to hold their blocks as long as would be the case in a more traditional offense.

Krivak merely says that this season's offense "will be multiple." Zolak says that any wrinkles like the one-back are really no big deal, adding "every college football team uses some part of it."

What Zolak is really more concerned about anyway is attitude. During his time at Maryland, he's seen the Terrapins' record go from 9-3 to 5-5-1, 4-7, 5-6 and 3-7-1. Symptomatic of the drop has been the aura of impending doom, the sense of waiting for the game-killing mistake to happen.

"We all come from winning programs. There's no reason why we shouldn't be winning," he said. "We play everybody tough but I'm tired of playing tough. I want to win. Playing tough is sickening almost. We make stupid mistakes and kill ourselves. Sometimes it's like we've always been playing two teams -- the other guys and ourselves.

"I've had no control of that the last couple of years. Now I do and I'm a poor loser. I know that."

NO MISSES: Junior punter-kicker Dan DeArmas converted all 24 of his extra-point attempts last season, increasing to 142 the number of consecutive conversions by Maryland kickers since 1984. DeArmas, a left-footed punter who averaged 41.5 yards last season, is the first punter in school history to receive a full scholarship as a freshman.

NO RETURNS: A Maryland player hasn't returned a kickoff for a touchdown since 1981, when defensive lineman Tim Quander rambled 92 yards vs. Duke.

NO MATTER: Inside linebacker Glenn Page led the team in tackles last season with 111 despite playing several games with broken bones in both hands.

NO BREAK: Maryland's 1990 opponents had a combined 77-45-4 record last season. Only Wake Forest, North Carolina and Virginia Tech won fewer than seven games. Last season, seven 1990 Maryland opponents played in bowl games.

FRESHMAN TO WATCH: Running back Mark Mason rushed for 2,961 yards in three seasons and broke most of the Churchill High School (Potomac) records set by Paul Palmer. After rushing for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns as a junior, Mason missed most of his senior season with a knee injury.

ON RECORD TRACK: Senior wide receiver Barry Johnson of Vienna needs 37 receptions to surpass Azizuddin-Abdur-Ra'oof (108, 1984-87) to become the Terrapins' all-time leading receiver. Johnson caught five passes in the first four games last season, then 38 in the last seven. He averaged 16 yards a catch.