At Mississippi State, his teammates called him "Old Man" because of the bald spot smack in the middle of his head. But these days, many of the Washington Redskins have given rookie running back Clarence Harmon the nickname "Tom," after the former Michigan All-America, Tom Harmon.

There is nothing very flashy or exciting about Harmon's style of play, and he wears NO. 38 on his back, not "o1' No. 98" that Harmon made famous at Michigan. But every time this quiet young man has carried the football this summer, he has averaged six yards per pop.

Harmon, a 6foot1, 190pounder, was the Redskins' leading runner after three exhibition games, ahead of the likes of Calvin Hill, JOhn Riggins and the injured Mike Thomas.

When training camp started, harmon would have been listed with the sixth team on the Redskin depth chart. There were all those veterans, a highly touted newcomer named Willie Spencer and two rookie draft choices - Mike Northington and James Sykes.

"We had a lot of backs in camp," Harmon said the other day, "and I really didn't know how long I would last. I just decided to go out and try to do the best I could, because that's all you can do. So far, I can't complain because I'm still here playing and some of them are gone. I've been lucky. I've stayed healthy. I know I can't afford to miss a single day of practice."

That sort of attitude had a lot to do with harmon's signing as a free agent on the recommendation of scout Mike Faulkiner despite two merely average seasons at Mississippi State. His senior year, in fact, Harmon gained only 148 yards rushing. And yet, there is a striking similarity between his route to the pros and that of another fair running back named Larry Brown.

Like Brown, Harmon was not heavily recuited out of high school and spent two years toiling in a junior college. And also, like Brown, Harmon spent his two seasons at a major university used primarily as a blocking back. Also, like Brown, an eight-round pick in the draft, Harmon was mostly ignored by the professionals when he graduated.

"We probably didn't give him the ball as much as we sould have," said Dennis Aldridge, Mississippi State's offensive coordinator. "We ran the veer his junior year and the wishbone last season and Clarence played fullback and tailback. He was a very fine blocker and that's how we used him.

"He's as good a person as you'll ever run into. He's very quiet, straightlaced and very religious. He's a winner in everything he does. He was maried and had a child when he came to us and he worked like the dickens to get his degre in four years. His wife helped put him through school and she graduated, too. They're an amazing family and we're tickled to death he's doing so well with the Redskins."

It is still too early to tell if Harmon will make the Redskins. If George Allen keeps six running backs (last year he carried five, harmon may be the man. He will have to beat out newly acquired veteran Harold hart to make the team, but he got a good jump when Hart pulled up lame last week andmissed a lot of practice time.

"We've been pleasantly surprised," said backfield coach Joe Walton. "Harmon is still young and he's got a lot to learn, but every week he makes fewer mistakes.

"He doesn't have that burst of speed you like to see but his blocking is improving, he can catch the ball and he's very coachable. The best thing he's got going for him is his durability. He's outlasted all these guys and he's never complained. The fact he's been healthy and been able to get a lot of work in practice is really going to help him. And he's done a pretty good job on the special teams."

As a child growing up with eight brothers and sisters on a sevenacre farm just outside Kosciusko, Miss Harmon's fondest ambition was to pay football at nearby Mississippi State. That would not have been possible before 1970, when the school recruited its first two black athletes.

But by the time Harmon arrived in 1975 about 15 per cent of the school's 12,000 students were black and there were 30 black football players.

"I loved it there," Harmon said, "I don't know what people think is going on in Mississippi but we never had any racial problems at school. I went to an integrated high school and I was treated very well in college. I Love Mississippi. It's beautiful country. My family's down there and I think I'll always live there. People up in the North have the wrong idea."

Harmon prepared himself for the possibility that he might not make it as a professional. Before he left, he found a job as an assistant coach and physcal education teacher in Newton, Miss.

"I was supposed to start this week," he said. "But they told me they'd keep the job open for me. I just hope I won't need it this year."