At Howard University these days Coach Lincoln Phillips is watching soccer practices that are markedly different from those he has observed the last two years.

The difference, Phillips says, is attitude -- a will and purpose that have emerged since the NCAA lifted a two year probation for using an ineligible player during the 1977 season. With Howard once again eligible for postseason play, the team is quietly and determinedly working toward another national championship to complement those won by the school in 1971 and 1974.

"You can see the enthusiasm is very high," noted Phillips, who has compiled a record of 107-17-3 in nine years at Howard."

Two other local universities that reached postseason competition in the last two years also figure to do well this year. American, which posted a surprising 14-3-4 record -- including an unbeaten streak of 16 games -- returns several starters from a team that lost to powerful Clemson, 1-0, in the NCAA quarterfinals. George Washington, 9-4-1 last year, again should be among the top teams in the East if it can avoid the sort of crippling injuries that sabotaged a 7-0 start last season.

Navy, which finished 11-2-4 and took the ECAC South title, returns 17 lettermen.

The University of District of Columbia has a new coach, Juan Zenzano, and a solid defensive line, and could improve on its 10-3 record.George Mason, 9-9 last year, continues to make significant progress under Coach Dick Broad. Maryland, Catholic and Georgetown must rebound from disastrous seasons.

Howard had some important holes to fill, notably on defense, where all-South fullback Kenneth Davy and goalies Alvin Gillem and Edmund Olumekor have graduated. But Phillips, as usual, has reached outside the country for some talented replacements.

He is especially high on two freshmen who start for the Jamaican national youth team, goalie Gilbert McPherson and halfback Carlton Briscoe. Another Jamaican, Micahel McPherson -- who is not related to Gilbert -- figures to start at one full back spot.

Six of the top nine scorers return, including Nigerian Sylvanus Oriakhi (14 goals, 7 assists) and Jamaican Ian Gage (7 goals, 1 assist).

American Coach Pete Mehlert lost five four-year starters, so it is understandable when he says, "I'm not very bold in making predictions right now." Still, an exceptional recruiting year and the return of several talented regulars should make for another strong team.

The Eagles could be explosive Mark DeBlois, a sophomore from McLean High School who led the team with 13 goals last year, returns as does Kevin Barth, a junior from Jefferson who had four goals and six assists. Mehlert sees additional scoring punch coming from freshmen Jim Bentson (51 career goals at Sherwood), Keith Oliver (25 goals last year at McLean) and transfer Dicky Coote. Goalie Bill Ruvo, who had nine shutouts last year, is a big plus.

George Washington lost its leading scorer, Farid Al-Awadi, but Coach Georges Edeline feels his team has good goal-producers in Meiji Stewart, Moshen Miri and Mohammad Pasikhani. The defense, as usual, will be very strong.

Navy Coach Greg Myers has a wealth of talent, including goalie Greg Denkler, who had eight shutouts last year, and top scorers Dan Humphreys and Walt Silveira. Also promising is sophomore Keith Wauters, who had three goals in the season opener.

UDC's Zezano has a young but experienced defense, led by senior defender Theophilus Bochway of Ghana. Most of the scoring should be done by junior midfielder Ghodrat Kholgi (9 goals, 5 assists) and freshman Luis Romero.

George Mason scored only 27 goals in 18 games last year, so Board will count heavily on two highly touted freshmen, Ron Celestin and Colin Kerr.

Maryland has slumped the last two years (5-7-2 and 5-12), and Coach Jim Dietsch must be wondering how his team managed to lose 10 games by one goal last season. The defense looks set, but Dietsch needs to find more help for junior Mo Goldfarb of Crossland, the leading returning scorer.

New georgetown Coach Scott Strasburg inherits a team that scored only six goals during a 2-10 season. Senior midfielder Pat Ayers of Georgetown Prep and sophomore forward Bill Flynn of Langley will be keys. Catholic's new coach, Tripp Kline, played for the Cardinals last year (2-11-2), and is counting on right winger Jeff Klein, the only returning senior, and forwards Mejri Adbell Aziz and Jean George Balla.