COLLEGE PARK -- Steve Ingram isn't a typical Terp.
The Maryland football roster is dominated by freshmen and sophomores, but Ingram is a sixth-year senior. It's a physically small team with the exception of left tackle, where Ingram throws around his 300 pounds. In a program that has won seven games over the past three years, he's the only player whose background includes a winning season and a bowl game.
Experience and size, however, weren't the Ingram attributes Maryland was thankful for last December. For three weeks after the 1993 season, Ingram researched his prospects in the NFL draft.
"If I'm anything, I'm patient," said Ingram, the best player on an experienced offensive line that will lead the Terps in their opener Saturday at Duke. "I can wait."
The opportunities for Ingram to second-guess himself are numerous. The most recent came last week, when Michigan running back and Heisman Trophy favorite Tyrone Wheatley separated his shoulder. The two spent three days together at an All-America photo shoot, and putting NFL hopes on hold was a frequent topic of discussion.
"Wheatley, [Georgia quarterback] Eric Zeier, [UCLA wide receiver] J. J. Stokes, this was a choice we all had to make," Ingram said. "I made it, and there's no looking back. It all came down to money. I stand to make more next year than I would have this year."
When Ingram contacted the NFL advisory committee of eight scouts that counsels underclassmen considering the draft, he wanted to hear that he was top-two rounds material. No higher than the fourth round was the answer he got, so Ingram figured another year of growth -- his own and the NFL's to 30 teams -- would make for a happier draft day in 1995.
"He made the right move," said Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN's draft analyst. "I would have projected him as a fourth-rounder if he had come out."
Kiper rates Ingram as the nation's ninth-best tackle prospect, with an asterisk. "This is the highest-rated crop of offensive tackles since I started rating them in 1979," Kiper said. "Six or seven of them could go in the first round, and the competition at the position is going to help him [Ingram]. He's in there with the best group ever. He's got a chance to go in the second or third round, but he could go even higher."
Others have a more inflated opinion of Ingram, 23, who stands 6 feet 5. Ingram was one of three tackles, the others being Ohio State's Korey Stringer and Southern Cal's Tony Boselli, named to Playboy's All-America team, which involved that three-day photo shoot in Arizona.
Besides posing for photos and breaking his self-imposed ban on basketball -- he made it to the semifinals of the slam-dunk contest that was won by Wheatley -- Ingram experienced a bit of melancholy.
"The guys from Florida and Michigan and Florida State, the term losing never comes out of their mouth," Ingram said. "I believe I was the only one out there from a losing team."
Actually, Zeier was 5-6 at Georgia last year, but none of the others had witnessed the team troubles Ingram has seen.
Ingram was recruited as a defensive tackle out of DuVal High in Prince George's County in 1989. He was switched to the offensive line the following year, played in the 1990 Independence Bowl, and thought the rest of his college career would go as smoothly as did his redshirt freshman year.
Ingram broke a bone in his right leg in the 1991 opener, the reason the NCAA granted him another year of eligibility. At the end of that season, coach Joe Krivak was replaced by Mark Duffner, but the losing has continued.
"I played in a bowl as a freshman, and I told myself 'This is how it's supposed to be,' " Ingram said. "It's OK. The struggles, they make you stronger. They make you wiser."
It's not as if Kirk and Cynthia Ingram dropped off a foolish weakling at the football complex five years ago.
"He's always been a self-motivated child," Mrs. Ingram said of the youngest of her four children. "If he told me he was going to be somewhere when he was a boy, I knew he was going to be there. He was the kind of kid who would get up at 5 a.m. if his homework wasn't done. He's always done the right thing."
As much as he likes playing basketball, Ingram does so as little as possible, to protect his legs from injury. Fishing and hunting are other passions, but they've also diminished in frequency.
A typical day this summer consisted of a six-hour shift in his father's welding business, and an afternoon in the Terps' weight room.
Three weeks ago, Ingram signed a $500,000 insurance policy that is being underwritten by the NCAA.
"My father helped me with it," Ingram said. "My Dad and I dealt with the NCAA, and I did all the paperwork. The premium of $6,000 would come from my signing bonus. I'm covered for my whole body."
As is usually the case, Steve Ingram has his options covered.
NOTES: Duffner still hasn't named a starting place-kicker, although sophomore Joe O'Donnell will kick off against Duke. He's still competing with freshman Brad Rhodes for the field-goal and point-after jobs. . . . Senior end Jahmal Webster, sophomore strong safety Jermaine Stewart and junior free safety Wade Inge will get their first starts on defense. Stewart and Inge are converted wide receivers. Andrew Carter, the other wide receiver shifted to the secondary, is now on scholarship at Howard after quitting the Terps last week. . . . Raphael Wall also is listed as starting at right cornerback. The senior from Wilde Lake played safety last year.