As a reward for finishing with a surprising 6-5-1 record, earning a bowl invitation and a four-year contract extension in the process, Maryland football coach Joe Krivak now gets to go against the likes of Notre Dame and Tennessee on a different field -- recruiting.

"It's an emotional roller coaster. You get close to a young man and his family, get a positive feeling -- and he decides to go somewhere else," Krivak said yesterday. "I guess the topside of it is when you go through everything and he decides to come to your school. It's a little like Saturday afternoons but on a lesser scale."

Saturday afternoons weren't too bad for Krivak by the end of last season, and he and the Terrapins appear now to be meeting similar success on the recruiting front. Before the end of last year, Maryland had gained verbal commitments from two national quality players, Montgomery College-Rockville quarterback John Kaleo and DeMatha High School kicker Dave DeArmas.

With the national signing day less than a week away, the school has made further inroads, gaining commitments from Raphael Wall of Columbia and Larry Washington of Randallstown, Md., two of the most highly recruited running backs in the nation.

Wall rushed for 2,002 yards and 31 touchdowns last season in leading Wilde Lake High to the Maryland Class 2A championship. Washington, whose commitment was reported Wednesday in the (Baltimore) Sun, scored 24 touchdowns and gained 1,549 yards on 154 carries to lead Randallstown to the state 4A title.

University of Maryland officials cannot comment on a specific player until after the Feb. 6 signing date but it's clear from the pep in the steps of the football staff that things are progressing nicely.

"We're having success with people who we've had trouble beating other schools for before," said assistant coach Kurt VanValkenburgh. "We may not have as many verbal commitments as in other years but we're working with more bluechip prospects, and when you're dealing with national caliber guys, they make their decisions later."

Perhaps Maryland's fortunes began to turn on Oct. 15 when work began on the renovation of Byrd Stadium, but the real impetus came a month later, when the Terrapins traveled to Charlottesville and upset then-No. 8 Virginia, 35-30.

Four days later, Maryland received a bid to the Independence Bowl, where it tied Louisiana Tech, 34-34.

In between those games, Krivak received his extension, lending stability to the program. And if Krivak's name carries a little more weight when he visits prospects these days than it did two or three years ago, it's only fitting because it's clear to most -- even to Krivak -- that he isn't the same coach he was then.

"The last two years have maybe been easier than the first two," he said. "Maybe I've grown a little more. I feel more relaxed, and after last season maybe I'm not feeling as much pressure.

"Of course, I'm realistic enough to know that next year I have to do it all over again. . . . We've accomplished a great deal and there's much to be positive about, but there's still much to be done."

Had things happened just a little differently -- if Virginia quarterback Shawn Moore had scored on a desperation fourth-down play in the season finale instead of being sacked on a shoestring tackle by Louis Johnson -- or if North Carolina wasn't tied up by final exams and had accepted the bid to the Independence Bowl, Krivak may not have had his chance to continue as coach.

However, Krivak is philosophical about life as a coach.

"In 1973 I was released from Syracuse and in '76 I was affected by some changes and instability here but ended up at Navy," he said. "I've been fortunate but I'm no different from anyone else. There are lots of people who work for 15 or 20 years and because of today's economic climate lose their jobs. My work is just a little more out in the open."

And, complain as he might about the all-consuming nature of that work, Krivak is putting in the time to get the players that could bring Maryland back to national prominence. Last Tuesday, the coach met with prospects from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., then caught a 6:30 a.m. flight to Pittsburgh to meet with three more recruits.

He returned to Maryland at 9 that night only to leave again at 7 the next morning for Newark and four more recruits. He returned on Friday for a weekend of hosting more prospective players.

By the end of next week, when the letters of intent have been signed and the recruiting process completed, Krivak will finally allow himself some time off, heading to Florida to dedicate a week to his beloved golf game. After that, however, there's preseason conditioning, spring practice and then back into the maelstrom.

"Anything that's being done is being done by a multitude of people," Krivak said. "The players, all the people working on the stadium; {university} President {William E.} Kirwan has been supportive and visible and {Athletic Director} Andy Geiger has been to every function.

"All those people have other things to do, but they're involved with us because we're all trying to move forward."