John Hurley's love affair with football began at age 5, with a simple game of backyard catch with his father in Stockton, Calif., 17 years ago.

He grow fond of the game in the sandlots, had his first serious fling at 13 and is trying to consummate the relationship as a novice quarterback in the training camp of the Washington Redskins.

The roots of this rookie may well have started growing the day John Hurley's father, Jack, turned down a contract from these very same Redskins in 1945, opting for law school.

Young Hurley says his father, used to throw footballs at him early on, and while he was encouraged to participate in all sports, he was never pushed into any.

At age 12, Hurley weighed 90 pounds and was not allowed to play Pop Warner football. A year later, he was a starting defensive end for the West Stockton Bears.

The coach was John Gustorf and Hurley recalled, "He was a great organizer, and his assistants were all Lombardi types. All we did was run, run, run, especially when you made mistakes. We had 65 or 70 kids, five different units.

"They never really taught us any techniques. It was just get rid of the guy in front of you any way you could and go get the football. But I loved it, 'oh yeah, I really did love it.

He hated it the next year when he grew too heavy to make the 130-pound weight limit for the team. And there was no football team in junior high school, either. So Hurley played soccer and had to be content with touch and flag football games in gym class.

One day, the head football coach at Amos Alonzo Stagg High School came to watch one of those touch games and noticed the gangly youth with the lively arm.

"He told me he wanted me to play the next year and I was ecstatic," Hurley recalled. "I was one of those kids who would go to all the Stagg games, asking players for their chin straps, that kind of thing."

In the summer before his sophomore year, Hurley grew from 5 feet 9 to 6 feet 2. When he took a physical examination for football, the family doctor advised him not to play because his heart and circulatory system had not yet adjusted to his rapid growth.

Two weeks after the football season Hurley had added 15 pounds to his frame, but it was too late to rejoin the team, and he concentrated on basketball.

As a junior, there were no problems. A new coach, Bob Mattos, brought in a pro-style passing game. Hurley started and Stagg finished 8-3, playing before 17,000 in a regional championship game.

The following season, Mattos switched to the veer offense. "He thought it was the thing of the future and it was - after I left," Hurley said "My senior year was kind of disappointing, we only went 5-5."

But basketball was something else. Hurley was the second leading scorer on a Stagg team that won 53 straight games. Both football and basketball recruiters flocked in to woo him.

The only school that told Hurley he could play both sports was Santa Clara. He had been impressed with the school's football coach, Pat Maley, who had helped develop Dan Pastorini. He enrolled.

"My freshman year, I practiced with the varisty during the week and played with the jayvees," Hurley said. "After eight weeks of that, they told me I could go play with the basketball team."

After my freshman year, I made the big decision. The quarterback coming back was a guy named Mike Nott. He was a senior that year and there was also a guy named Kaipo Spencer, a junior. I decided to red-shirt that season, come back the next year as a backup to Kaipo, then have the last two years to myself."

The plan went according to specifications. Hurley backed up Spencer as a sophomore and battled for the starting job as a junior with Terry Malley, the coach's son.

"If we would throw, I'd play, and if we were going to run, Terry would play," Hurley said. "I played four games and threw for over 1,000 yards. They figured it out that when I was in the game I threw 81 percent of the time. We had a good season, 7-4, and all the losses were close."

When he returned the next fall, Hurley was The Man. In his first two games, he passed for more than 600 yards, and the smattering of scouts who had seen him play the previous season turned into a small crowd the day Hurley started the third game against archrival San Jose State.

"In the first series of that game, I was scrambling up the middle, veered to my left and put my hand out to straight-arm a guy," he recalled. "I don't know what happened, but my index finger hit his helmet and when I went to the sidelines, it was pointing directly to the right."

"I went over to them and said pull it out, so they got it out, taped it up and I went back in. I tried to rig it so I would throw with the back of my hand. We tried to control the ball, but we lost.

"When the game was over, my hand was a mess. I remember walking out of the stadium with my finger in an ice bag. I showed my parents what it looked like and they couldn't believe it. I just thought, It's all over, you'll never play again."

"The first doctor I went to said I'd be out eight weeks, and that would mean I'd miss the season. Then the team doctor looked at it and he said four weeks. So I stayed in shape, ran and worked in the press box with the coaches during the games.

Hurley came back to start against Cal State-Hayward. "We were going to try and run the ball," he said, "but I wound up throwing 51 passes. We lost, 36-35, in a wild game and I was just floating those babies out there the best way I could.

"So I finished the season, we ended up 3-7-1 and I figured that was it for me and football. I hadn't seen a scout since the San Jose State game, So I was prepared to go out and get a job and that would be it."

Hurley graduated in January and took a job with an accounting firm in a suburb of San Jose.

"One day while the teams for the East-West game were practicing I got a call from a scout with the Rams," he said. "He asked me if I could go out and throw a few footballs.

"So I went to one of the practices and I threw for him. My finger was all right by then and he said he was glad to see I was okay. Then the grapevine just opened up on me. I kept getting calls from people at work who wanted me to throw for them.

"I'd do it during my lunch hour. I'd be wearing a suit for work and I pulled a Bob Griese. I was a walking Sears commerical. I'd take off my suit coat, loosen the tie and throw for them."

Bobby Beathard, the Redskins' new general manager, was among the lunch-hour callers and on the second day of the draft, Beathard selected this gregarious, mustachioed quarterback in the ninth round.

So John Hurley is fighting to keep those roots alive and flourishing. And, for now, he seems to be succeeding. The Redskins yesterday cut his only competition for the third-string job, Tim Ellis, a rookie from Mississippi.