It was only a four-yard touchdown run in a meaningless game. But after Steve Atkins crossed the goal line, one teammate jumped on his back and several more crowded around, popping him on the pads and slapping hands all the way back to the bench.

"Yeah, the guys got a little excited." Maryland quarterback Mark Manges said. "We're glad to see him back. We knew he would be. It's atzays nice to have Steve on your side."

Atkins, the junior tailback who had a gimpy knee a year ago, was on the losing side yesterday in Maryland's spring football game, but no one seemed to mind.

Playing less than the equivalent of two quarters, Atkins gained 96 yards in 17 carries and caught two passes for 17 yards more, even though the Red team prevailed over the White 21-7.

"I think he's perfectly well," said Maryland coach Jerry Claiborne, who probably is more concerned about his own knee than he is about Atkins. The coach will undergo surgery this week to remome torn cartilege. "Nothing serious," he said. "Please don't make a big deal about it."

Claiborne preferred to dwell on Atkins' comeback from a knee injury midway through the 1976 season. It deprived Maryland of its most valuable runner the rest of the way. Atkins did play briefly in the Cotton Bowl, but was used only as a decoy.

"He's blocked well this spring. He's played very well," Claiborne said. "He hasn't run over anyone yet, but that will come. His speed is as good as it ever was. He's rehabilitated, no question about it. All he's got to do is run and continue to lift, and he'll be fine."

That is precisely what Atkins says he will do at home in Spotsylvania this summer, with a lot of basketball, as well.

"I'm pleased aout the spring game," Atkins said. "I couldn't do some of this things I wanted to. A few plays I ran into people instead of around them. My timing isn't there, I was a couple of seconds off. But I'll be ready in the fall.

"I just have a little pain in the knee in bad weather. My first carry today it bent back a little, but I tried not to think about it. I shook if off. All I know is not having an operation last year was a good decision. I told them I don't want to see that knife."

Claiborne said he was generally pleased with yesterday's game, particularly the Terrapins' passing atrack. Manges completed 14 of 25 for 191 yards for the losing Whites, with three interceptions. Larry Dick completed nine of 13 for 100 yards for the winning Reds. The White's Chuck White led all receivers with eight catchers for 108 yards.

Claiborne was not at all happy about the 225 yards in penalties whistled yesterday, many of them against the interior lineman for holding, motion and offsides.

Still, he also knows that 18 players too injured to particiapte in yesterday's final spring scrimmage should be available by fall, including 11 players he believes will be either starters or second-team men.