COLLEGE PARK -- The earrings are gone, stashed away in a drawer. The bushy, blond goatee was cut off shortly after Mark Duffner took over as Maryland football coach. The haircut is a little more conventional, not the Mohawk or skinhead or any of the other wild 'dos Darren Drozdov wore the past four years.
These days, the 6-foot-3, 280-pound defensive tackle is expressing himself mostly on the field. He is a fifth-year senior, a team captain, a player Duffner is counting on to lead the young Terrapins when the 1992 season begins Sept. 5 at Virginia. These days, "Droz" -- as in "Boz" -- is just another clean-shaven face.
"Darren is a very enthusiastic, highly emotional, sometimes free-spirited young man," Duffner said yesterday during a scheduled visit by the media covering the Atlantic Coast Conference. "I like his emotion, I like the fact that he has fun."
Drozdov, who often battled with former coach Joe Krivak and members of his staff about his appearance, thought he was going to have further problems when Duffner held the first team meeting shortly after he was hired last Dec. 31. As Duffner went down his list of no-nos -- from earrings to facial hair to wild haircuts -- everyone in the room kept looking at Drozdov.
"I felt like a walking violation," he said later.
But after meeting privately with Duffner and later with defensive line coach Cliff Schwenke, Drozdov had another feeling: it was as if he had been given a new lease on his football life at Maryland. After returning from back surgery as a sophomore, and redshirting as a junior, Drozdov said he thought Krivak and his assistants had given up on him.
"In the beginning I was a little worried," Drozdov said of his relationship with Duffner, who had a reputation as a no-nonsense coach at Holy Cross. "After the first meeting, I said, 'OK, I'm in trouble'. Over the spring, I had to prove myself."
In the course of Maryland's 15-day spring practice, Drozdov proved that he could be an effective player in Duffner's "attack" defense. Showing the form that had helped him make 65 tackles as a sophomore, and 18 in the final two games last season, Drozdov was given the Top Terp Award by the coaches for making the most big plays on defense.
"He did a terrific job," said Schwenke, who had come with Duffner from Holy Cross. "He's not always 100 percent [healthy] because of his back. Our biggest concern with him is that he stays healthy. He's a very good football player. He's very strong. He leads by example."
"People looked at him like he was a weirdo instead of as a person who did things a little differently," said senior linebacker Mike Jarmolowich, who also was named captain. "He's a great player. That's what counts. Instead of bringing so much attention to himself off the field, he can show what he can do on the field."
With his back problems seemingly in the past, Drozdov is looking forward to the season. The confidence the new staff has demonstrated in him is reciprocated, which wasn't the case last season. Drozdov's problems weren't so much with Krivak but with line coach Dennis Murphy.
"During the season, he would ask me about my back, and I would tell him it was fine," said Drozdov, who had a ruptured disk removed from his lower back in 1990. "In the middle of the season, I was getting in for only about 20 plays a game. He told me that he forgot that I was on the sidelines sometimes. I thought he was basically jerking me around."
Not that Drozdov has totally conformed. He covered his blond hair yesterday with a black leather bandanna. He wore Army fatigues cut off at the knees. A rather prominent tattoo adorned his bulging right bicep. But those who know him say it's like most college kids wearing a coat and tie.
"I guess I have changed," said Drozdov.