hallace McMillin, the head football coach at James Madison University, looked beyond the east end zone of Madison Stadium, to a grassy plot where a lone archer whistled arrows toward a target and a lone goal post stood in obvious disuse.

"That's where we played our first game, 10 years ago," McMillin said. "There were no stands and about 2,000 people watched, behind a rope we had stretched around the sidelines."

That first team played five games against junior varsity and prep school opposition and did not score a point. Three years later, McMillin's team was unbeaten and, in 1979, the decision was made to award athletic scholarships and move from Division III to Division I-AA.

The climb in stature has brought growing pains and three straight losing seasons, including a 3-8 record in 1981.

Saturday, when Madison plays host to New Hampshire, it will be fielding its first team that includes a full complement of 75 scholarship players, as authorized for I-AA schools.

As the football program has struggled up the mountain, James Madison has made its name on the basketball floor. In 1981, Lou Campanelli's team upset Georgetown in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Then, last winter, Madison beat Ohio State before losing by two points to eventual national champion North Carolina.

With a basketball record of 24-6, a baseball mark of 40-15-1, a wrestling record of 16-2 and an overall figure for 24 sports -- 12 men and 12 women -- that topped all other I-A schools in Virginia, some wondered why the football team was lagging. McMillin just continued to build for the future.

"With the success of the basketball program, people look at that and think football should move just as fast," McMillin said. "But people who know are aware that you can't build a football program that fast. A lot more goes into it."

Madison began in 1908 as a women's teachers college, and it was not until World War II that men enrolled. They formed a basketball team and the school's nickname was derived from the college president, Samuel Duke.

Perhaps now they should call them Carriers. It was Ronald Carrier who took over as president in 1971 and began the massive building program that has doubled enrollment to 7,600 undergraduates, led in 1977 to the changeover to James Madison University and produced outstanding athletic teams and facilities.

Madison is a popular school with Washington area high school graduates; current football recruits include running back Victor McPherson, hero of McNamara's Metro Conference title victory over De Matha; Anthony Evans, two-way standout at Carroll; tackle George Collins of Wilde Lake; linebacker Tom Gribben of Laurel, last year's captain at Montgomery College, and Jeff Hamilton, who ran for 1,173 yards and 15 touchdowns at Fairfax last season.

This season it will even be more comfortable for Carrier to watch his football team. For years, he and his entourage sat in the north stands, in front of the press box, partly shaded by an awning from the glare of the late afternoon sun. Saturday he will sit in a new VIP section high in the south stand, sun at his back, watching what he hopes will be one more James Madison team on the rise.