Virginia Union University didn't begin to recruit football players from the Washington area until 1978, when four players signed. But the groundwork was laid and, in three years, the number of D.C.-area players at the Richmond school has increased to 19.

Three of those players -- Gary Mayo (Spingarn), William Wall (Coolidge) and Kevin Patterson (Anacostia) -- were named to the 1981 all-conference team of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.

The recruitment of athletes from the Washington area appears to relate directly to the team's recent success. Since the Virginia Union coaching staff decided to go after those players, the school's record has been 30-2-1, it has won two CIAA titles in three years and has qualified for the NCAA Division II playoffs for the third straight year.

Virginia Union, ranked second nationally among Division II schools, plays host to Shippensburg State today in the first round of the playoffs.

The key recruiter for Virginia Union is Joe Taylor, an assistant coach and former Cardozo standout who worked as an assistant at Washington's H.D. Woodson High School and at Eastern Illinois University before going to Virginia Union in 1978.

"At Virginia Union, there is an open-door policy," Taylor said. "Students aren't required to have a certain grade-point average. The school is small, so the students get more individualized attention with academics.

"Another factor is that because there are so many players here from D.C., they can relate to each other when they have problems. There isn't as much social life here as there. Because of that, the players spend more time studying."

Patterson, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound linebacker, was recruited by such football powers as Ohio State, Purdue and Texas after being selected all-Met in 1977. The leader of a defense that ranks second among Division II schools in total defense, Patterson opted for Virginia Union because of academic problems and after advice from friends.

"When I graduated from Anacostia, I didn't have that good a grade-point average and I didn't have my academics in order," said Patterson, a possible pro prospect. "I talked to a few people about my situation and they suggested that I consider a smaller school. They told me that I could get more personal attention both in the classroom and on the field. Virginia Union impressed me with their academic-support programs and their winning tradition, so I decided it was the place for me. It was definitely a good decision, because I've had a chance to play for four years and I'll be getting my degree in social work."

The proximity of Richmond to Washington is another advantage. High-school coaches, parents and relatives can drive or charter buses to home games.

Other Virginia Union players are former all-Met and all-league selections. Among them are freshman linebacker Jock Robinson (H.D. Woodson), freshman starting cornerback John Warren (Coolidge) and brothers William (tight end), Donnell (defensive back) and Kenneth Wall (wingback), also of Coolidge.

One player from Washington who has contributed to Virginia Union's offense, which ranks first in the CIAA, is Mayo, its sophomore kick returner/running back. Mayo was second in the nation this year among Division II kick returners with a 32.1-yard average. He also rushed for 500 yards and scored seven touchdowns as a reserve.

Mayo's best effort came last week in a 45-7 win over North Carolina Central for the CIAA championship. He rushed for 104 yards and scored three touchdowns.

Mayo says he selected Virginia Union because it was the only school that continued to recruit him after he injured his shoulder during his senior year at Spingarn.

"I was getting letters and inquiries from a few schools early in the season," said Mayo. "But after I got the injury, they all stopped coming, except Virginia Union. It was then that I made the decision that I would come here. Now, I'm loving every minute of it."