Five years ago, the Washington area's contributions to the Navy football team could be counted on one hand -- Three-Fingered Brown's hand, at that. But accompanying the winning tradition George Welsh has restored here (24-11 over the last three years) has been an influx of local high school products.

Twenty-one players on the current roster are from the Washington metropolitan area, including three starters and several who are pressing first-stringers for jobs.

"We've worked harder and we've seen results trying to recruit local players," Welsh said. "There has been more of a concentrated effort on our part. There is a lot of talent close to home; why not take advantage of it?"

The responsibility for recruiting in the metropolitan area rests with Joe Krivak, the quarterback and receivers coach who handles Montgomery County, and Tony Whittlesey, the linebacker coach who covers the rest of Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia.

Whittlesey, a 1964 graduate of St. John's High, thinks the improvement in football in Northern Virginia is a key to the greater numbers coming out of that section.

"When I played for St. John's, there were teams over there, but the Catholic League was dominant," Whittlesey said. "But the quality of football in Northern Virginia is richly improved over 15 years ago. There are larger schools, better facilities and more coaches. I consider it the richest section of the state, although some Tidewater people might dispute it.

"A big factor for us at Navy is the academic emphasis in Northern Virginia. You get a better caliber of student and he has an easier time getting accustomed to life at the academy. Also, there are a lot of Navy connections out there, and they give us a lot of help.

"There's no question that it is a big advantage to live near the academy. It eases the adjustment and the fact that your family gets to games is a definite plus."

Confirming that last factor is senior Greg Papajohn, an All-Metropolitan selection from Crossland who caught 16 passes a year ago as a wide receiver. Despite his sub-200-pound frame, Papajohn answered Welsh's emergency call at spring practice and moved to tight end.

The only current senior to letter as a plebe, Papajohn did not choose the Naval Academy because of its proximity, but he has found it to be a positive factor.

"Football got me in here and I've gotten a great education besides playing big-league football with a great schedule," Papajohn said. "My dad's in the military and it means a lot to me to be serving my country, too. It's the best choice I could have made.

"But it's a tough life and it's a big advantage to live so close to the academy. I can get home and get away from it for a while. I had a roommate from Phoenix and he had a pretty tough time."

While Papajohn has been successful right from plebe year, it has been a slower and tougher process for Mike Rouser, the senior defensive end who was The Washington Post's defensive player of the year at Seneca Valley in 1977.

Rouser, now up to 214 pounds, was below 200 when he came here and saw limited action during his first two seasons. He moved in as a starter against Boston College in the Mids' fourth game last year and finished the season third in tackles, tops among the linemen.

The third area starter is sophomore Ray Daly, the left cornerback who, like Whittlesey, was captain at St. John's High. Besides his defensive duties, Daly is the holder for placekicker Steve Fehr.

Threatening to take first-string berths before the season-opener against The Citadel Sept. 12 are center George Herlong, guard Dennis Sinnett, defensive backs Brian Cianella and Kurt Dixon, and defensive end Hamp Oberle.

Herlong, a sophomore out of Bishop Ireton, started spring drills at middle guard but was shifted back to his plebe assignment at center and is challenging junior Dennis McCall for the starting job.

Sinnett, an All-Metropolitan and yet another St. John's captain, has been slowed by injuries at Navy and now, as a senior, finds himself slightly behind converted tackle Craig Smith.

Cianella, a junior from Langley High, is contending with senior Rusty Smith for the rover position. Dixon, a highly regarded sophomore from Herndon, will see considerable action at either cornerback or safety. Oberle, a sophomore from W.T. Woodson, spent a lot of time in the No. 1 offensive backfield during Saturday's scrimmage, recording two sacks, blocking a pass, forcing one fumble and recovering another.

Other veterans on the Navy roster include Frank Watt, junior offensive tackle from Bethesda-Chevy Chase; Gary English, sophomore offensive tackle from West Springfield; Todd Hastings, sophomore tight end from James Monroe; Frank Andrews, placekicker from St. Mary's of Annapolis, and Randy Pierce, sophomore linebacker from Osbourn Park.

Forced to sit out this season as a transfer from Georgia Tech -- he scored Tech's only touchdown in a 19-8 loss to Navy in 1980 -- is Bill Rogers, a tight end who played at Marshall High in Vienna.

This fall's group of plebes reflected the increased emphasis on recruiting in this area. Chris Weiler, a wide receiver from Annandale, has already made a mark, catching a 30-yard pass in Saturday's scrimmage and running some clever patterns that went unfulfilled.

Other plebes with local connections include defensive backs Joe Papetti, South River, and Bob Oliver, Fort Hunt; middle guard Ted Digges, Madison; quarterback John Hefti, Woodbridge; tackle Mark Walker from nearby Pasadena who attended Cardinal Gibbons in Baltimore; defensive end Bill Gabel, Milford Mills, and running back Alfred Villareale, Stonewall Jackson, who is recuperating from injuries suffered in an automobile accident.