Terry Metcalf certainly had not thought his future in professional football would come down to this: agility drills that college seniors must master before teams will consider drafting them.

He says he feels like a rookie again. "A nervous one at that," he adds.

But perhaps Thursday's drills, scheduled by Redskin General Manager Bobby Beathard and Coach Joe Gibbs, are appropriate. After eight sometimes spectacular pro seasons, this 29-year-old bundle of moves and tenacity is seeking a football rebirth. What better way to start than at the very beginning again?

"My stomach started churning a bit about a week ago," Metcalf said, "just thinking about trying out for them. I don't consider it demeaning. There are a lot of stepping stones I have to take to get where I want to go, and this is just one step to hurdle over. That's how I have to look at it.

"Can I pass the tests? Yeah, I think so. I know so. I want this really badly, and I've always been motivated when people don't think I can do something."

If Metcalf gets a passing grade, the Redskins will sign him and his three-year exile in the Canadian Football League will be over. But if he can't run 40 yards in 4.7 seconds ("I can do it in 4.6, but I haven't run 40 in years"), and if he can't zip through the line drill and the standing broad jump and the rest of the agility tests, Washington most likely will pull back from offering a multiyear contract that could cost the Redskins a fifth-round draft choice and approximately $600,000 if Metcalf meets all his incentive standards.

"It comes down to this," Beathard said. "Can Terry still play? We aren't sure and we want to find out. If he runs a 4.9, I don't see how we can sign him. I wouldn't sign a rookie that slow. He has all the desire in the world. We just have to see if that is enough."

Can he still play? It's a question scores of running backs nearing the age of 30 have had to ask themselves. All those tackles, all those blocks over the years take a toll. The instincts still are there, but can the feet still get the body to the hole fast enough?

"I think you are usually the last to know," said Metcalf, once among the most exciting runners in the National Football League. "You aren't going to admit it anyway, even if you have lost it. But I haven't. I'm not saying I'm the same as I was at 25, but I still can play, I still can contribute. I still have most of my quickness, but my overall speed might be something else. I can't run fast forever, but you can maintain your quickness. That's what they will find out."

But Beathard, who relies on his own instincts to separate the talented from the just good, wonders. He has watched films of Metcalf for hours, studying his last season with Toronto in the CFL. He saw flashes of greatness, when Metcalf would explode through holes and dance into the secondary. But he also saw moments when Metcalf looked ordinary.

"He's not that young," Beathard said. "A guy like Terry relies so heavily on his quick movement. He never was a guy blessed with great speed. But he was a natural at taking advantage of the little openings. That's what goes first, that ability to shift and move. Without it, he's got less stuff to work with."

Metcalf undoubtedly would like to have the chance to sit in the film room with Beathard and explain his side.

"I didn't have very good years in Toronto," said Metcalf, who played for $250,000 a season in the CFL. "They were ordinary, not spectacular. It's natural for them to wonder, at my age, have I lost my quickness? Am I too old? I didn't do anything up there to show them differently.

"I have no regrets going up there, but I do wish things had turned out better." After three straight seasons of finishing last in the Eastern Conference, last in the Eastern Conference, the Argonauts and Metcalf parted in April. The club could pay five players for the money they were giving him, and management knew Metcalf wanted out so he could return to the NFL. It was better to let him go, to play younger men, to continue rebuilding.

Although some Argonaut observers say he never was the "same old Terry" in Canada, the Toronto general manager, Tommy Hudspeth, once the detroit Lions' head coach, says Metcalf isn't through yet.

"We were rebuilding and there was a constant shuffling of personnel. He never got a chance to settle in. But he still can do lots of things, he's a very active player.

"Has he lost a step? I'm not sure. Age changes that a little bit, but with the right personnel he's an asset."

Metcalf gained 669 yards in 1978, 568 in 1979 and 554 in 1980. He caught 31, 55 and 51 passes. He led the Agronauts all three years in rushing, was one of their top two receivers the last two seasons and their best return man the first two. He was a league all-star in 1979 and an award winner for his community service in 1980. But he rarely made the big play, his specialty during his formative years with the St. Louis Cardinals.

He gained more than 100 yards five times as a Cardinal, but never more than 816 for a season. Still, he was catching 197 passes in five years, returning punts for 921 yards and kickoffs for 2,804. In 1975, his 2,462 yards rushing, passing and returning kicks set an NFL record. And with him, the Cardinals won two division titles; three years they won at least 10 games.

He is a little man, 5 feet 10, 185 pounds, in a big man's game. But he refused to back off from anyone. He had a competitive spirit that pushes him even to this day. Metcalf, who lives in the Washington area, works out twice a day to stay in shape.

"Ever since my high school coach told me when I was a senior that I wouldn't make it because of my attitude and my size, I've pushed myself to show people they are wrong," Metcalf said. "That's the case now, too. I have something to prove."

Gibbs, who coached Metcalf in St. Louis, leaves the impression he would sign Metcalf today. "There is no question at all in my mind about his quickness, intelligence or toughness. But does he have the staight-away speed? I'm not worried about his foot quickness, that's still there.

"It comes down to whether he has lost a step or two and how much that has hurt him. There comes a point where you just can't outrun a tackler anymore. But I'll always remember what a great competitor he is. Sometimes at halftime, he'd be exhausted because he'd go all-out on every play.

"Some of his two-yard runs were the most amazing things you've ever seen. He'd do anything he could to make something out of nothing. He's a complete player: good hands, intelligence, quickness and tough enough to want to block. His only weakness always has been his size. But having Terry and Joe Washington on the same team would be something."

When the Redskins made the trade with Baltimore on draft day to get Washington, Gibbs called Metcalf to assure him the team's interest had not waned. Gibbs says he can see situations where the two would be in the backfield together.

Metcalf wants very much to be a Redskin. He lives in Arlington in the offseason, plays on a local radio station's basketball team, works out three times a week at Redskin Park. He even reduced his contract demands to break a bargaining stalemate.

"I've always liked the stadium and the grass field," he said. "When I was playing against the 'Over the Hill Gang' I was determined to show them they were too old to catch me.

"And I really want to go back to St. Louis -- as a Redskin. That gets me motivated. I've been wanting to play against them from the day I left. I'll be thinking about that when I'm running through those drills."

And what if he flunks his tryout, if he finds out that the extra step has been lost forever?

"It will be something I have to live with," he said. "This is my whole football career on the line. It all comes down to this. There is no way I'm going to mess it up."