Call them the San Diego State Connection. All three are young, big and, ironically, competing for the same job - the backup spot to staring tight end Jean Fugett.

Bill Helms was San Diego State's starting tight end until he graduated two years ago, turning the spot over to Don Warren, who played for two seasons with then-fullback Phil DuBois.

Now Warren, the Redskins' first pick in the draft (in the fourth round), is rooming with DuBois in training camp and swapping old memories with Helms, who helped recruit him to San Diego State in the first place.

"And you want to hear something really funny?" said the outgoing Warren. "I've got a broken bone in my thumb and I have to wear tape on it. Well, Phil sprained his thumb last week and he has to wear tape too."

Helms, drafted by the Giants in the 12th round two years ago, has avoided a thumb injury but he isn't hard to pick out on the practice field either. At 6 feet 7, he looks as if he should be trying out for the Bullets.

Coach Jack Pardee ways he would like to keep three tight ends on the roster. "Otherwise, if you lose to injury, it messes up your practices." The next few weeks will determine the football future of the SDS connection, with the only other tight ends on the current roster Reggie Haynes, whose bad knee will keep him out another month, and free agent Grady Richardson from Cal State Fullerton.

"Phil and Don are enthusiastic," said Pardee, who got a chance to look at those two prospects the last month at Redskin Park. "We're excited about their potential."

Warren and DuBois, who had not been especially close at San Diego State, decided to trek cross country in early June, as Warren put it, to "get a real good head start on everyone else by working out at the Park as much as we could."

Despite the sore thumb, which has him "catching with the left hand and clawing with the right," Warren feels he learned enough in those short weeks to be a few steps ahead of most of the other rookies in camp.

And DuBois was able to solidify his impression on the coaching staff.

DuBois gained 705 yards playing both tailback and fullback last season with the Aztecs. The Redskins thought enough of his potential to offer to sign him as a free agent prior to the draft.

DuBois declined, but when he was bypassed, he agreed to terms with Washington.

"Right now, it doesn't seem strange competing against him," Warren said.

"We are a lot closer now than we were in school and I don't think it's a blood-and-guts thing.

"It helps to have someone to talk to. We both really like to play. He's like I am. He'll dive on the ground after anything that is close to him."

That's how Warren developed the thumb problem. At a May minicamp, he slammed into the artificial turf trying to haul in an errant pass. The turf won.

"It won't change my style," he said. "I feel you have to go all out when you play. Even if you miss the ball, they are going to say, 'Hey, who is that crazy guy diving around.?'"

Warren is not as quick as the ideal tight end, but his blocking ability and his size (6-4, 230 and growing) impress the Redskins. They feel he is a superior fourth-round choice.

DuBois (6-2, 220) needs some extra pounds but he was a tight end in junior college and he was State's third-leading receiver, behind Warren, last year with 35 catches. Warren had 39 for four touchdowns.

"Having played tight end longer doesn't give me that much of an advantage," Warren said. "I may block better and be a little bigger but Phil is a heck of an athlete. He can adapt quickly to any position.

"You kind of wish it hadn't worked out this way, both of us competing for the same job. But I know one thing, both us are willing to sacrifice the body to make this team. I think the coaches realize that." CAPTION: Picture, Don Warren, left, and Jean Fugett race for time in 40-yard sprint at Redskin camp. By Richard Darcey - The Washington Post