After an impressive spring football practice, Howard University quarter-back Brian Thomas went home to Columbus, Ohio, and spent the summer working in a steel mill.

"I was lifting hot steel and throwing it in a bucket. The money was good, $250 a week with overtime," said Thomas, a sophomore. "But when I reported for summer practice my throwing arm was a little sore."

For the remainder of summer practice and the first few games of the season. Thomas shot putted passes to switched to freshman Ronald Wilson.

"He just couldn't throw," Porter said. "If he had been completely healthy, I don't think we would have any problems at quarterback."

Wilson also had his problems. And several offensive linemen wer lost with injuries. Suddenly, the Bison, expected to be a factor in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference race, were 1-3.

"I was really down on myself. Coach Porter told me to rest my arm but I didn't," Thomas said. "I wanted to help the team and I kept trying to paly. But I couldn't do the job."

Fortunately, Thomas' right arm came around and Howard responded with three victories in its next four games.

Howard (4-4) shoots for its third consecutive victory against North Carolina Central (1-8) in Durham at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Over the four-game span, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Thomas completed 37 of 71 passes for 707 yards and six touchdowns. The first half of the season he was nine of 22 for 65 yards. Thomas is presently ranked third in the MEAC, a few percentage points below Eddie Epps of Delaware State and Charles Armwood of Saturday's opponent.

In last week's surprising 26-16 triumph over Southern, Thomas was 13 for 20 for 211 yards and two TDs. He also ran 12 times for 30 yards. For his performance, Thomas was named MEAC player of the week.

"I prefer being a drop back passer, but I know we've lost most of our line and I have to run," Thomas said. "The line has adjusted to my style and now they roll with me. But I like to run, anyway."

"His running keeps a lot of pressure on the defense," said Porter. "It's necessary right now that he does run," because Howard has lost five linemen since its first game.

"He still has a little problem with indecisiveness on play selection and the option," Porter said. "He has to learn when to run and when to throw."

When Thomas does decide to throw, he usually finds wingback Steve Wilson (22 receptions, 413 yards, three TDs) or split end Darryl Dennis (nine catches, 197 yards, two TDs).

Thomas pulled off a fine play fake that drew in the Southern secondary so he could toss a 43-yard TD pass to wide-open Greg Scott.

"The defense had to be honest on that day," Porter said.

As for going back to the steel mill next summer, Thomas says he probably will ask to be changed to another department."

"I don't mind working there, but I won't be picking up anything," Thomas said, "not even for $250 a week."