Junior quarterback Ronald Wilson, listed on the second team after spring practice, is playing himself into contention for Howard University's No. 1 spot.

With one week remaining until the Bison open their season at home against West Virginia State, Wilson and senior Brian Thomas are running neck and neck, according to Coach Floyd Keith.

"It's not that Brian is playing poorly or anything," Keith said. "But Ronald has greatly improved this summer. He has gotten better command of his running game. That has helped him because he is already a pretty good passer."

Keith also cited Wilson for "doing a good job moving the club." The Anacostia High School graduate was Howard's most productive passer last season (504 yards, three touchdowns) when the Bison experimented with a quartet of quarterbacks.

Thomas, a stocky 184-pounder from Columbus, Ohio, was the second-leading passer with 317 yards and four touchdowns.

The two quarterbacks also fought for the regular job last season; Each started four games. Charles Seay, who started one game, chose not to play this season. "I haven't seen him since I got here," said first-year coach Keith.

Sophomore Raymond Gray, Howard's long-ball specialist last year, is the other experienced quarterback. Gray guided a squad of freshmen and inexperienced players to the only Bison score in a scrimmage last week.

Keith will determine who is No. 1 Monday. "I feel confident with both Thomas and Wilson," Keith said. "But I have to have a man in there who can lead the club. With the Houston veer offense, though, you have to have a lot of quarterbacks around. I'll stay with my top man until somebody else proves he can move the club better."

Keith, who doubles as quarterback coach, will call the plays from the sideline.

"We will still be pretty wide open in terms of calling audibles at the line of scrimmage," Keith said. "In practice, the quarterbacks make suggestions and I say to go ahead and try it. If a quarterback is a robot, then he isn't really operating the club. That's when the team sees a miniature Floyd Keith out there and not a quarterback."

Keith has seen the Bison squad dwindle in numbers from a potential 91 -- 26 at spring practice and 23 newcomers -- to only 75, 20 below the NCAA's Division I-AA limit.

Academic ineligibility nabbed 10; the top three offensive tackles including all-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference pick Fred Reed, the probably starting nose guard and a part-time starter at center last season.

Junior fullback Donald Canady, a spot player last year, 250-pound offensive tackle Kermit Wheeler and sophomore defensive tackle Gerald Kee, who had earned a probable starting spot, all quit during the current three-week practice because of either academic difficulty or personal reasons.

Some freshman recruits never enrolled; some returning players failed to recover from 1978 injuries, and a few others reportedly quit because of the strenuous practices.

Tailback Beeman Veasley, the leading returning ground gainer (476 yards, 5.3-yard average) lost practice time while recovering from complications caused by arm surgery. Veasley, a senior, fell to third string and then dropped off the squad early this week.

Keith had little sympathy for those who quit.

"We don't need them anyway," Keith said. "I want people who want to play.

"We can always deal with a few more bodies out there.But I have confidence in any kid I put out as a starter."