Antonio Rice, Scott Matheson, Scott Lageman and Charles McDaniel attended classes at the University of Virginia for the first time today. On Sept. 11, the four freshmen are expected to get considerable playing time when the Cavaliers' football team opens its season at Navy.

When George Welsh, Virginia's new coach, led the Midshipmen, he rarely expected much from first-year players. Now, a combination of gaping holes and precocious recruits has prompted Welsh to place some trust in them.

Rice, from McKinley High School in Wash-ington, is listed as the backup to Quentin Walker, a senior tailback who has been slowed by shoulder problems. Matheson, 6 feet 3 and 235 pounds, will be the starting nose guard against Navy unless junior David Bond makes a rapid recovery from an ankle injury.

Lageman, from Park View High School in Sterling, and McDaniel, out of James Monroe in Fredericksburg, will get extensive time at linebacker, Virginia's biggest problem area.

"Our first four linebackers have never played in a game at that position; in fact, I don't think they've ever played in a game, period," Welsh said. "We're starting from scratch, but I like what I see of their ability.

"We still have to make some big personnel decisions. Today and Friday, I hope to get people lined up where we want them, then leave them there so they can get ready for the first game. I wish we were playing somebody else first, and then Navy. When you're in a transition, a state of flux, you could use more time to prepare. We have so many new players that I don't really know what to expect and the first game could be tough for our kids. But I think we'll be pretty decent in a few weeks if we get some kids back and then stay healthy."

The injury list already is a long one, although the Cavaliers have been practicing only two weeks. The secondary has been hit hardest, with strong safety Lester Lyles, from St. Albans School in Washington, ruled out of the Navy game with a damaged knee and Bart Farinholt sidelined by a back injury suffered in Monday's scrimmage. Veterans Howard Lewis and Darryl Smith have been unable to scrimmage because of nagging injuries.

Free safety Pat Chester, the key player in the secondary, has been slowed by ankle problems and was held out of today's scrimmage to insure he will be ready for Navy.

Rice's path to No. 2 tailback was smoothed by the absence of two other highly regarded freshmen. Howard Petty, from Severn School in Annapolis, has mononucleosis; Barry Word a hamstring pull.

"Rice has had two good scrimmages and he's ready to play," Welsh said. "He'll get plenty of playing time in the opener."

Quarterback Gordie Whitehead, who missed spring practice with a shoulder injury, fumbled a snap Monday, wound up at the bottom of the pile and came up feeling sore again. He did not scrimmage today and Welsh is still unsure about the identity of his starter, with Wayne Schuchts and Mike Eck challenging Whitehead.

"I like all three, and there's not much difference there," Welsh said. "Maybe we'll have to play two or three to see who's going to be No. 1."