To many, the image of junior varsity football is one of poor equipment, early morning games in front of single-digit crowds and coaches who draw up plays as the game goes on.

But for most high school football players, JV football is a rich and rewarding experience that teaches them what they need to know to be capable varsity players. The equipment, for the most part, is top-notch, the contests are as exciting as many varsity games and the coaches are as serious about the wins and losses as their varsity counterparts. There is no lack of pride in JV football.

"We teach them technique and what it's like to work with others on a team," said Georgetown Prep JV Coach John Shea. "We use the same system as the varsity."

The system apparently works, judging by the Georgetown Prep varsity's 21-game winning streak, although the JV doesn't usually share the same success. But Shea doesn't feel that winning at the JV level is the most important thing.

"We teach the kids that even if they don't win every game, that if they hang together, things will come together," Shea said. "Maybe not on JV, but on varsity."

Shea is one of the luckier JV coaches in the area. He began the fall with 44 players and still has 39. Poolesville's Fred Swick was not as lucky, but he's sure been successful. Swick's Poolesville's JV -- all of 17 players -- finished with a 7-0 record, despite playing no teams with less than 30 players.

"We can't ever have a full scrimmage in practice," Swick said. "A lot of our kids have to learn to play two or three positions."

"Coaches Swick and {assistant coach Rick} Dorsey really put this team together well," Poolesville quarterback Brian Bupp said. "They taught every level of fundamentals."

Another advantage Poolesville had over many of its opponents was its familiarity between players.

"Since Poolesville is so small, everybody knows each other," said tackle Chris Hottle. "These guys have been playing together for years."

The Paint Branch game was a real obstacle for Swick, as Poolesville was only able to dress 14 players due to an injury and the flu. So the team had just three available substitutes, but Poolesville won anyway, 14-6.

Ah, the life of a JV coach. But while even a small school like Poolesville can get a JV squad together, the Interhigh League has no JV football because of limitations with finances and facilities.

"We just have enough room for varsity soccer and football. JV would just complicate that," said Ballou's acting assistant principal, Lamar Pearson. "I think the availability of kids is there. It should be a priority. That's what the guys need to be doing."

But many Interhigh officials would like to see JV football added.

"Money has not been allocated for these programs," said Eastern athletic director Barbara Dodd. "We need {JV teams} so that we can feed into our varsity."

She said that the implementation of JV football hasn't been discussed.

Judging by the reaction of many area JV players, the addition of JV football to the Interhigh schools would only be a good thing. They say JV football has made them very happy.

"I like to be on JV, not on varsity," Poolesville's Hottle said. "That's where our friends are. It's not as good on varsity."

Said Georgetown Prep tackle Victor Manuel: "It's real fun, because if we were on the varsity, we'd just be on the bench. Here you get to play positions you thought you'd never play."

While most JV players are freshmen or sophomores, Manuel and teammate Ali Zandi are juniors. But they say they have no qualms about being on JV.

"You have a sense of leadership," said Zandi, a defensive end/tight end. "It puts you a step ahead of a lot of people."

One of the things that makes the Georgetown Prep varsity program so successful is the camaraderie shared by the JV and varsity teams.

"A lot of varsity players come to our games," Zandi said.

One of the methods used by many schools to promote this unification is the joining of forces in practice.

"Our JV kids work with the varsity for 15 minutes two or three times a week," said Churchill assistant JV coach Joe Chilberg. "It's not like you're a bum because you're on JV."

Said Friendly JV Coach George Earley, "When we come out, we go through warmups and drills with the varsity for 45 minutes to an hour. The JV program at Friendly is treated the same way as the varsity program."

While this parallel treatment works on most levels, the basic coaching methods are different. The JV coach must teach the basics.

For example, at a recent Georgetown Prep practice, a lineman came back to the huddle after an unsuccessful attempt to block a defensive player and asked Shea, "Coach, what am I supposed to do on that?"

Shea replied, "Double team the tackle." On the next play, the player covered his responsibility, double-teaming the tackle, thereby springing the running back for a good gain.

"We just go over basic fundamentals," said Friendly's Earley. "The program is designed to prepare kids to move up to varsity."

While the varsity coaches have to teach as well, they are more concerned with the abstract parts of the game. The JV coaches have to teach the most basic functions.

"We have had kids we've had to teach to put the pads in their pants," Churchill's Chilberg said. "And some who don't know the difference between a block and a tackle."

Churchill's junior-varsity program is designed to be less intense and more low-key than the varsity. Churchill lets players join the squad as late as a week into the school year, so that new students and others unfamiliar with the program have a chance to join. It takes a while for this diverse group of players to mesh, but once they do, the results can be quite impressive. After losing its first three games this season, Churchill won five straight.

The area JV coaches share the same attitude as their players. They are quite content in their roles and it shows.

"I enjoy teaching and working with the kids," said Chilberg, a volunteer coach who is also a minister of youth at the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda.

The players' enthusiasm is not dimmed by the small crowds and the meager exposure afforded the games.

"It doesn't really bother us that {the varsity} gets all the attention," Zandi said. "They deserve it."

Said Georgetown Prep's Shea, "We don't always get everyone we would like to see {at the games}, but it's not really that important."

Still, there are obvious differences between the varsity and junior varsity.

"We don't get anything from the school," Friendly tailback Martin Cornish said. "Varsity gets cheerleaders and the band, but we don't get that."

But Carroll's program is different. It gets not only good crowds, but familiar ones.

"St. John's came here to play and these guys I played with 12 years ago are there saying, 'Good luck, Coach'," Carroll JV Coach Thomas P. Kling said. "The program gave them something, so they come back."

The program at Carroll is traditionally one of the area's best, and as a result, a lot is expected from the players. An example of this is Carroll's current 5-2-2 record, which Kling said is "good for most schools, but not by Carroll's standards."

One of the differences in Carroll's program is that JV is not the bottom rung on the ladder, but the middle one. With the existence of a freshman team, the JV players have already experienced high school football, although sometimes in a primitive sense.

"The freshman {offense} has six plays, and once the defense figures them out, the coach walks on the field and draws plays in the dirt," Kling said.

Carroll athletic director Maurice (Maus) Collins is the varsity coach and that helps the entire football program.

"The athletic director, also being the head coach, stresses good equipment," Kling said. "If a kid has a special injury, Maus always finds a will and a way to get the kid what he needs."

But satisfaction with equipment is not just at Carroll. In fact, few area coaches interviewed for this story complained about equipment or the condition of playing fields. Overall, they harbor no complaints about JV football, but they have the same aspirations as the players -- to one day reach the varsity.

"Everybody dreams of being a leader," Kling said. "Someday {the chance} will be there."

But Kling will not move up unless the situation is right.

"I'm not moving up until they find someone as good as I to take over at this level," he said.

"I do not aspire to be a varsity coach," said Poolesville's Swick. "But if the right situation came along . . . "

At least at the varsity level, the JV coaches would get the chance to show their worth in a playoff situation. One of the disadvantages of JV football is that there is no playoff system. That leaves many players and coaches claiming they have the area's best junior varsity team.

But the advantages of JV football certainly outweigh the disadvantages.

"There has to be some kind of introduction to physically and emotionally get better," Friendly JV quarterback Arthur Wallace said.