The percentage of players who ascend from major college football programs to the National Football League is minuscule, thus rendering the task of an athlete rising out of a Division II school that much more difficult.

Some players have successfully completed the climb, and a select few have even tasted stardom, such as New York Giants all-purpose back Dave Meggett from Towson State. Meggett soon may have company, from Bowie State safety Randy Norris, who -- if he overcomes the odds -- will do so with only one year of Division II experience.

Norris's most enthusiastic backer is a man who can recognize NFL potential: Bulldogs coach and 10-year NFL veteran Sanders Shiver. Shi-ver, who played in 1976-85 as a linebacker with the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins, enters his second year at Bowie. These days, he's looking forward to a secondary that includes Norris, a 6-foot, 198-pounder who has been scouted by several NFL teams.

For all the high hopes, Norris has yet to play for the Bulldogs. He sat out last season after transferring from Lees-McRae, a junior college in North Carolina. But the scouts know him. "He was scouted as part of our preliminary program last spring," one NFL scouting combine spokesman said. "We have him on a master list, but everything hinges on Randy's performance this fall."

In addition to the scouting combine, individual scouts representing the Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills and New Orleans Saints viewed Norris last spring, Shiver said. "He's a player with remarkable potential," the coach added.

Another local coach remembers Norris, who played two years at the junior college level. Montgomery-Rockville's Phil Martin, whose team plays Lees-McRae each year, first spotted Norris dominating a Coastal Conference all-star game two years ago.

Recalled Martin: "He was making a lot of sacks all day. Their defense is always dominant -- top five for the past three years. He was a great player and I can see him making the pros."

During Norris's first year at Lees-McRae, the team went 11-0, capturing the Coastal Conference title and earning a final nationwide ranking of second among junior colleges. The team defense was first in the nation. A year later Lees-McRae was 9-2 and conference co-champion. Norris was named an all-American both seasons.

Mac Bryan, Norris's coach at Lees-McRae, says today he wishes he "could put 11 Randys on the field. He's definitely one of the best players we've had here, and athletically I have no doubt he can play in the NFL."

At Lees-McRae, Norris exhibited his versatility, playing defensive tackle -- after being an all-state tailback in high school in South Carolina. He learned the position quickly.

"He was a big-play maker," Bryan said. "I remember one play where he chased the opposing team's tailback and outran my secondary to drag him down about the 20-yard line, saving the touchdown. He was both strong and fast. We still talk about him just about every day here."

Norris's NFL dreams started early.

"When I was young, I wished and wished," he said. "Now it's reality."

When asked why Norris is so highly regarded, Shiver hardly hesitated.

"He gets it done. He's just one of those kids who makes plays," Shiver said. Norris, who also plays inside linebacker when Shiver shifts defensive alignments, bench presses 400 pounds and has run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, a rare combination of size and speed that professional teams crave.

Norris aims for the top with his role models: San Francisco safety Ronnie Lott and New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor, two of the most dominant defensive players of this or any era. So is he a hard hitter, like the aforementioned two?

"Yes, sir," Norris sums up with a smile.

Such defensive mastery can only propel the Bulldogs once more to the upper echelons of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA), whose championship they captured last season with a 24-21 victory over Winston-Salem State in the title game. The team, which suffered through a painful 32-game losing streak that ended in 1987, started its return to prominence under previous Bowie Coach Dave Dolch and continued under Shiver. His reasoning for Bowie State's turnaround is simple.

"It came from the kids making a commitment," he said. "We have a team concept and rely on all our players. They just outworked their opponents week after week."

Now Bowie finds itself devoid of several top players, including defensive backfield stalwart Rodney Belfield, who finished 1989 with a team-best 109 tackles and seven interceptions, the most in the nation among Division II players.

But Shiver's optimism will not be swayed. "All of our kids were taught the same things. Now we must have the top kids step up and replace those who graduated."

Bowie's small size does not remove any of its stature, in Shiver's mind. After serving as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for three years before ascending to the top spot last year, he admits "it doesn't compare" with the NFL. But that leaves plenty of room to teach, a task Shiver relishes.

"Teaching the game of football is fun," he said. "I had the chance to be coached by {Dolphins Coach} Don Shula, and when you learn from people like that you can teach others. I enjoy most the opportunity to see just what I learned by teaching it to the players."

Norris said he realizes the obstacles involved in moving from a Division II program to the NFL. But he remains undeterred.

"If a player has the talent to play in the NFL, he'll get a shot," he said. "But it will be tough."

1989 RECORD: 7-3-1, 5-1 in CIAA.

COACH: Sanders Shiver, second year (7-3-1).

OFFENSE: Multiple Wing.

DEFENSE: Split 4.

TOP PLAYERS LOST: QB Henry Frazier; S Rodney Belfield; TE Reggie House.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Butch Wilson (545 yards, 6 TDs); RB Phil Dyer (408 yards, 7 TDs); NG Tony DiMauro (CIAA-best 14 sacks); K Mark Fitzpatrick (26-27 PATs, 10-16 FGs); P Jason Herold (CIAA-leading 42.1 avg.); KR Tim Styles (29 yards per return); CB Don Janey (75 tackles, 5 ints.); S Randy Norris (sat out 1989 season after transferring).

TOP NEWCOMERS: T Tony Pianoforte (transferred from Hudson Valley); RB Jay Crawley; RB Jonathan Person; RB Steve Smith (Dunbar).

PROJECTION: The team's primary goal is to win its second consecutive CIAA title in Shiver's second year as coach. With a strong nucleus of running backs (also including Mike Jones and Noel Harrison) and linebackers (including Edward Gregory -- last year's MVP in the CIAA title game), the Bulldogs are well on their way. Also: 55 players returning from last year's team. One hurdle: a very difficult Division II schedule that includes seven opponents who were nationally ranked in 1989.