COLLEGE PARK -- Frank Wycheck's first exposure to Penn State was two years ago. As a redshirted Maryland freshman, he didn't play, but he was a witness at the Terps' game against Penn State in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium and the scene still burns in his memory.
"The fans went crazy," Wycheck said. "It was different. Any time you play in a big stadium like that, it's special."
No longer is Wycheck a witness. This year and last, he has been a major part of Maryland's offense. No. 9 Penn State (7-2) may not have much to fear when it plays Maryland (2-6) tomorrow at the stadium (1 p.m., WBAL-AM 1090), but Wycheck could at least bring a furrow to Joe Paterno's brow.
When football people concocted the name H-back -- a fullback/tight end type who blocks as well as catches passes -- they must have had Wycheck in mind. He is a burly 6 feet 3, 225 pounds, and has the hands of a shortstop.
"Frank's the ideal H-back," said Paul Tortorella, Maryland's H-backs and tight ends coach. "He's a mix -- good receiver, good blocker."
Receivers coach Rod Sharpless puts it this way: "Good hands, good concentration, a knack of reading linebackers."
A starter from the outset, Wycheck caught a school-record 14 passes in Maryland's opener last fall and hasn't looked back. He finished as the Atlantic Coast Conference leader in receptions with 58, a school record, despite missing two games with injuries.
This year, as a sophomore, he has 33 catches and has climbed to No. 6 on the Terps' career list with 91. Next is Greg Hill (97, 1982-84). If Wycheck prospers in the Terps' last three games, he might crowd all-time leader Azizuddin Abdur Ra'oof (108, 1984-87) -- with two years still to play.
Wycheck had a good day at Penn State last year, catching four passes for 35 yards, even though he was agog at the idea of playing the Nittany Lions in his home state. When he was starring at Archbishop Ryan High in Philadelphia, he read about Paterno's bullies.
"I don't know what came over me, but I was just so excited to be playing at Penn State," Wycheck said. "It was an honor to be on the same field with them."
While Penn State has had things its own way in the 34-game rivalry with Maryland -- losing but once in the long ago of 1961 -- the Terps have been stubborn over the last decade. Since 1980, Penn State's winning margins have been one point (1984), two points (1985 and 1986), five points (1987), seven points (1988) and 14 points in 1980 and 1990.
The last time the teams met in Baltimore (1989), Dan DeArmas kicked a 26-yard field goal with 58 seconds remaining for a 13-13 tie. DeArmas, now a senior, has mixed feelings about playing in Memorial Stadium.
"For a kicker, it's awful," DeArmas said. "Last year against Clemson I tried one from 47 yards and it seemed to be going straight, then went off to the right. But I like to play there, with the big, noisy crowd. That's where John Unitas played."
The mere thought of playing Penn State normally sends the Terps into orbit, but Wycheck feels their 2-6 record may make it more difficult to get aroused this time. They are coming off their worst effort of the season, a dreary 24-0 loss to North Carolina.
"It's tough to get up when you have to search for something to play for, when your bowl hopes are gone," Wycheck said. "Pride, personal pride, that's what it'll take. We should have a tough time not finding motivation against Penn State."
Can Maryland win?
"Yes, but not the way we've been playing," Wycheck said. "We have to play a perfect game. Penn State has very few weaknesses. We can't afford mistakes. But they're very beatable, if we get on 'em early."