COLLEGE PARK -- The stretch run is here for the Maryland football team, and senior nose tackle Delbert Cowsette seems more than ready to lead the charge.
Strong finishes have always been Cowsette's style at Maryland.
He finally broke away from all the double teams this season to rack up three sacks Saturday in a 45-7 pounding of North Carolina, after being held to one sack in the first six games.
The mostly silent 6-foot-1, 274-pound player said he might even do some trash-talking on the way to the finish line, where he hopes a bowl bid will be awaiting the Terps.
"I don't say much. A lot of things have to happen to get my mouth to running," said Cowsette. "But once I start, it takes a lot to stop me. I haven't done any talking yet this season. I don't know when it will come. It could come this week if something happens."
Maryland (5-2, 2-2) will meet Duke (1-6, 1-3) in an Atlantic Coast Conference game tomorrow at Byrd Stadium at 1 p.m.
Cowsette's only verbal outburst in more than a year came last season in a 24-10 loss to Florida State at Byrd Stadium. He played the best game of his career that Oct. 3 afternoon, making 13 tackles in a one-man show that limited the powerful Seminoles to just one touchdown.
"Florida State didn't talk a lot of trash that day," said Cowsette. "But I felt real good about myself and started talking trash. I still believe we could have won that game."
It almost always seems that Cowsette saves his top performances for big-name opponents.
Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden said, "Delbert has a quality to step his game up when the competition is the best. He's been our best defensive lineman."
And what about those traditional sprints to the finish line?
They are fueled by a season-long learning process, personal goals and a strong desire to win, said Cowsette.
"I kind of get a feel for everything that is happening out there and the game slows up for me toward the end of the season," he said. "A play happens and I'm there without thinking. Early in the season, it seems as if I have to read keys before I get to the play."
Cowsette wanted to reach the 100-tackle mark last season and needed 19 in the final two games to make it.
"I only got 15," he said. "You always have personal goals in your mind but I'm not playing the right position here to accumulate a lot of tackles. This is a linebacker-oriented defense."
Cowsette said he is primarily responsible for taking on blocks and freeing up the linebackers to make tackles.
"But I'll take up every block I can to get to a bowl game," he said. "A bowl game is a reality. We are one win away from becoming eligible for a bowl and two wins away from actually going. Even if we do win the next two and lose the last two, I don't see how they can keep us out."
A bowl trip would top off what has already been a successful collegiate career personally for Cowsette. He has come a long way from Central Catholic High School in Cleveland, a city that isn't known for producing a lot of top football players.
Cowsette is a strong candidate for All-ACC first-team honors this season after earning honorable mention last year. He also is one of five captains on the team this year, he was the team's scholar-athlete and lineman of the year last season and he scored his only touchdown at any level in his first game at Maryland when he picked up a fumble and returned it 54 yards against Northern Illinois in 1996.
Cowsette was recruited heavily only by Mid-American Conference schools and he could have joined his brother, Anthony, who was a running back at Villanova.
"I didn't want to play in Anthony's shadow and I didn't want to stay in Ohio where the Mid-American Conference schools are," he said. "So I came to Maryland where I've been happy. Just being around all these guys and per- forming at the ACC level has been a lot of fun."
Two former teammates and roommates, Chad Scott who is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Johnnie Hicks, made Cowsette feel welcome right away as a freshman.
They tagged him with the nickname "Debo" after a character in the 1995 movie "Friday" and it has remained with Cowsette for four years.
"I would borrow things a lot from them," said Cowsette. "And soon they said, 'You're worse than Debo.' The difference was Debo stole things. I just borrowed them. They [Scott and Hicks] said it so much that the name stuck."
Next for Maryland
Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park
When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)
Line: Maryland by 9 1/2.