Maryland nose guard Delbert Cowsette loves to tackle hard. He thinks more like a linebacker, the position he occasionally played at Cleveland's Central Catholic High School, rolling over anyone in his path.

"I want to hit somebody so hard that I see it in their faces," he said. "That's one of my dreams."

Even since bulking up and being put in the middle of Maryland's defensive line, Cowsette has shown he could do much more than fight off double-teams.

A 6-foot-1, 274-pound senior, he is Maryland's top returning tackler, having made 96 last season. That put him third on the team behind linebackers Kendall Ogle and Eric Barton, both of whom went in the NFL draft.

Nose guards usually don't make a large number of tackles. They spend most of their time trying to occupy as many blockers as possible, enabling linebackers or ends to bring down ball carriers. But Cowsette is strong enough to fend off blockers and quick enough to make tackles virtually anywhere on the field.

"He has all-ACC potential," Coach Ron Vanderlinden said. "He's got a fire inside of him. He wants to win."

Last year, even in the final two games of a 3-8 season, Cowsette played to win. He made 15 tackles against Duke and then 15 more against North Carolina State. He was credited with 13 solo tackles against the Wolfpack, an astonishing number for a nose guard.

"If you know the blocking scheme, you know where the ball is going to go," Cowsette said. "In high school, I was in the backfield a lot, but I didn't know exactly what to do. [Last year] things just started clicking. I just started recognizing things quicker. . . .

"When I first got here, I didn't really understand it. I didn't know any of the techniques."

Since redshirting in 1995, though, Cowsette has improved each year, making 40 tackles as a freshman and 63 as a sophomore. He has appeared in 33 consecutive games, and started the past 22.

Along the way, he has made his share of the head-snapping, above-the-belt contact that shows up on television or in the highlight films.

When Cowsette exploded through ball carriers, "it always was a charge to everyone out there on the defense," defensive end Erwyn Light said. "It's an indescribable feeling. It boosts your level of excitement tremendously."

Still, Cowsette does not neglect the primary goal -- bringing down the opponent.

"Everyone wants the big hit," he said. "That's all fine and dandy if you get that hit. . . . The best way to tackle is to tackle down low. If you try to tackle them up high, you could lose them. If you tackle them down low, you've got their legs and they can't go anywhere."

Cowsette honed that skill in high school as a heavyweight wrestler, winning a state championship and learning how to gain leverage on opponents. But he really began refining his football technique at Maryland, under former defensive line coach Rubin Carter, a former NFL player who worked at Maryland in 1997 and '98 before moving to the Redskins.

"He helped me tremendously," Cowsette said. "By him being a defensive lineman in the NFL, he brought a different aspect from what I've learned before. He taught me how to look at certain blocking schemes and different techniques to use to get off blocks."

This season, Vanderlinden wants him to work on pass rushing. As a team, Maryland made just 21 sacks -- worst in the ACC.

"I had a hard time getting to the quarterback last year," said Cowsette, who had three sacks. "It's a whole lot of different techniques. . . . We hadn't really worked on rushing the quarterback as much in the past, but this year we are."

He and the Terrapins must carry that into games for Cowsette to achieve his goals for the season. "I want to go to a bowl game," he said, "and, personally, I want to make all-conference. That's one of my main goals. I just want to improve my stats from last year. [As for the NFL], that's always a given, but it's not my main focus because if I thought about that all the time, it would clutter my mind, and that's not what's important now -- it's winning."

1998 Results.

James MadisonW23-15

at Virginia L 31-19

at West Virginia L 42-20

Temple W 30-20

vs. Florida State L 24-10

at Clemson L 23-0

Wake Forest L 20-10

vs. Georgia Tech L 31-14

at North Carolina L 24-13

at Duke W 42-25

North Carolina State L 35-21