AS IT HAPPENS every summer, the real life version of "American Graffiti" came true last August for the players selected to the 1978 All-Met football team.

They went off to college, some with scholarships, other with suitcased anticipation. They held their high school sweethearts in a last embrace. But for most, there were new dreams to chase.

In the past three months, some of the dreams have come true, some have been detoured, and some have been shattered.

One started out almost too good to be true: Theodore Roosevelt's Chris Prince recovered a Wisconsin fumble in his first collegiate play for Purdue. p

One never reached the proving ground: Walt Whitman's Ben Quinn, a young mountain of man at 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, was killed in an automobile accident.

There is only one common feeling among the All-Mets interviewed -- high school is now a rapidly fading photograph.

Meet five 1978 All-Met football players, interviewed a year later as the 1979 season wound down.

Mike Gullette, a defensive back from Annandale, had two brothers who went to the Naval Academy. He seemed a natural to find his future on the same yellow brick road to Annapolis. He applied. He got in.

He lasted eight weeks.

"It was a combination of a lot of things," he says. "I saw what I was doing. At Navy they make you do a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with school. You have to put up with a lot of hassling. Like, you have to memorize all four verses of the National Anthem or recognize ships and their abbreviations or know the menu for all the meals . . . you just have to be a perfect person that first year. I started to realize that I didn't want to give them five years after I graduated and I didn't want to go into a technical career -- which is what you get at Navy.

"I thought about leaving after three weeks. My mind went back and forth. Football was the best thing there. I got to take out my frustrations of the day. But football couldn't hold me there. My coach was pretty disappointed. He asked me if I wanted to talk about it and I didn't really want to.

"My mother was a little disappointed also. My brothers were surprised I went in the first place. My older brother told me not to go because of the kind of person I was."

With a laugh, Gullette describes himself as, "Not the Naval kind of person."

Gullette has learned that life after high school can take unexpected turns. Sometimes U-turns.

"I'm living at home taking classes at Northern Virginia Community College until the spring semester when I go to (the University of) Virginia. NVCC is about half a block from my house. It's almost like being in high school again. Most of my friends have gone away to school. It gets a little lonely around here."

"It happened a month after I got here," says Gaithersburg's Kraig Britton, a 6-foot, 205-pound linebacker at the University of Richmond.

"This lineman, a little bigger than me, pushed my back over, pinching a nerve in my neck. It ran right down my back. I was second string linebacker at the time and doing pretty well. Now it doesn't look too good for this year."

Britton's injury has touched off a wave of personal discouragement. His views of most everything about college football have changed.

"It's like a job," he said. "I spend 30 to 35 hours a week on football and I don't even dress. The other guys put in 50 hours. After football you don't want to do anything but sleep, so your life so a little limited. I mean, I watch film after film in these team meetings and you just fall asleep.

"It's nothing like high school. The game is faster and everyone's so much bigger. You have to prepare yourself for every practice much more than you did for a high school game. It's just a different world."

A better world?

"Not right now. Eventually I hope it will be."

It takes one word for Britton to explain what being All-Met means to him now.

"Nothing. Everyone else around here has the same honors I do. Don't get me wrong, being All-Met was a thrill. But here it doesn't mean anything."

When they roll the credits of a football team, the coach is director, the linemen are technical crew and the quaterback is star. Stardom's cloud is by far the cushiest seat.

Quaterback Leo Leitner, last year's luxury lap live-in from Good Counsel, is now sitting fitfully in the fourth string quarterback slot at Wake Forest.

"I haven't even traveled with the team," he said. "It's a tough adjustment from being All-Met. I just try to keep a positive attitude. You talk to the starters and they say they went through the same thing. Anyway, the coaches gave me things to work on and that's what I'm doing. When my time comes, I'll be ready."

Leitner talks with controlled confidence. But he admits to past moments of doubt and pain when moaning to old friends was the only answer. "I call tem and they kid me about being fourth string. Then they back me. They've been really great . . . very helpful.

"On the whole, I'm very happy I came here. The team's having a great year and that makes things a lot of fun. I don't regret a thing. I haven't gone back to Good Counsel yet."

When the account of his post-high school saga reaches its crescendo, Mark Merrell finally pleads, "What do you have to do to play football these days? I really gotta wonder about that."

Merrell, a defensive back from Madison, is now at Elon College in North Carolina. Only he's no longer a defensive back. Or even a football player.

"I assumed I'd be playing football," he said. "The coach said he saw films of me and gave me the impression he was anxious to have me play. Then, around Aug. 10, I got this letter telling me to come to practice the first week of school. The rest of the team was reporting around Aug. 19 and the start of school was the first week of September. They just shoved me aside. They didn't seem like they wanted me on the team so I didn't play. I was enthusiastic over the summer. They really put the water to that flame."

Instead, Merrell, who went to Elon without a scholarship, will be a red-shirted baseball player this spring. "I was offered a baseball scholarship from American U. but I wanted to get a chance to play football. AU has a great baseball program. Now I'm not playing baseball at AU or football at Elon. I guess I went from the top of the hill to the bottom of the hill real quick."

Recalling his All-Met selection, Merrell says, "Being All-Met was the biggest thrill of my life. Now I'm pretty disillusioned. It all seems like so long ago. Maybe I'll try out for the football team next fall. I'll give it a shot so that later in life I'll at least be able to say I tried to play college football."

To the 1979 All-Met selections, Merrell says, "Let me put it this way, I hope the guys who are All-Met this year have it better than . . . well I just wish them a lot of luck."

Let's end with a love story.

"I still got the prettiest little girl in town," says ex-Dunbar halfback Freddie (The Juice) Wagoner. The Juice's love story is woven around his girl friend Debbie and his 2-year-old son, Freddie III.His love for the world of football, however, has gone slightly sour.

From his Northeast home where he is tending to "a little personal problem," Wagoner talks of his experiences at Langston College in Oklahoma.

"Everything they said they were gonna give me, they didn't. The money . . . everything. You know, it's the same thing every year. A star player comes out of the Interhigh and they promise him this and that and they don't deliver. Ou go to ask them what happened and, well . . . amnesia.

"I got some financial problems at Langston and I'm looking to transfer for January so I won't lose my eligibility. The main thing I'm worried about is getting a good education."

Wagoner returned home at the beginning of November and planned to return to Langston after Thanksgiving. He said he talked to his teachers and had taken his books home to keep up with his work. When he's not studying, he's "playing with my little boy and being with my little girl. The first couple of weeks at Langston I wanted to come home, but Debbie told me to stick it out."

Wagoner says he is still optimistic about himself. He's not sure where he'll be this time next year but he is sure of one thing -- his happiness -- as long as Debbie says those three little words.

"Oh yeah, she says, 'I love you' . . . every single day."