Keith Van Horne, the first offensive tackle taken in the 1981 NFL draft -- would-be Redskin Mark May was only one of five OTs to go on the opening round -- has signed a series of contracts and chirped: "I can't wait to get started. I love to play football, and to get paid for it is something else."

The eager beaver is a USC Trojan turned Chicago Bear who, if all goes well, will help make running room for Walter Payton, in whom lies another tale of contentment -- and a tall tale debunked.

Payton, the NFL's highest-paid 1980 player ($400,000-plus), became a postseason free agent, but he will by July 23 reporting time have signed a new Chicago contract that will maintain his No. 1 salary status. So says his attorney Bud Holmes, who also says he was misquoted in a report Monday night that Payton would eclipse O. J. Simpson's record NFL salary (in the Juice's final season with San Francisco). "Under our proposal (to General Manager Jim Finks)," Holmes said, "assuming O. J. got $800,000, Walter would not become the highest-paid player in history." . .

The ranks of reluctant first picks further thinned with Baltimore's signing of Randy McMillan and Atlanta's of Bobby Butler, but signing is no guarantee of suiting up. Witness the Buffalo Bills' Penn State prize, Booker Moore, signatory of five one-year contracts a month ago, but out until midseason at best. Ten days of hospital tests after complaining of numbness in hands and feet, and Moore's been sent home to get over effects of the rare nerve ailment, Guillain-Barre syndrome. Condition arrested, the doctors say, and prognosis for recovery is good. . .

Coaches from Virginia State and Cheyney State will observe the Redskins at work through July under a new NFL program under which staffers from 44 black schools have been invited to the league's 28 training camps to pick up pro terminology and techniques. . . College football: Maryland has agreements that will put Pitt on the Terp schedule for four years and, lookahere, Michigan for three. . . College basketball: The 1986 NCAA Division I finals awarded to Dallas. . . District of Columbia's Earl Jones named to the East team, for which Georgetown's John Thompson will coach, in National Sports Festival III at Syracuse, July 23-29. A reunion there of 1980 Olympic trials candidates Jones and Pat Ewing. . . That last item is the last item from Jim McCannon as UDC information director, says McCannon. He's leaving after 11 years of publicizing there and at predecessor Federal City College, to get in on the ground floor with cable television in Montgomery County. . .

Baseball's "strongest infield arm" (by Sporting News poll) has a new lease on life: Todd Cruz, Chicago White Sox shortstop. Cruz had pleaded guilty to reduced charges of attempted break, enter and theft, but the judge in Edmonton has conditionally discharged him. Cruz, on assignment with the Class AAA Edmonton Trappers, was trapped inside a downtown department store in the wee hours of May 19, a plate glass window and a display case shattered, a dozen watches on his person. Cruz, 25, testified to marital problems, worry over his career after the Sox sent him down to play into shape following a back injury, and a drinking bout with some Trapper teammates. After leaving a restaurant, he said, he remembered nothing until he found himself in the store at 4 a.m. -- facing a police dog that had sniffed him out, and arresting officers. Judge Dean Saks, after hearing many references to Cruz's good character, said he didn't believe it was "the real individual" whom police found. Play ball!