Mark Manges stepped slowly up to his center. He looked over his shoulder and repositioned his running backs. He put his hands under the center and started calling signals.

Across the line, the middle linebacker took two steps to his right. Manges read a blitz and called an audible, sending his wide receiver, Van Quarles, deep on a post pattern. Quarles caught Manges' perfectly thrown pass for a 30-yard gain.

This is the Interstate Football League and Manges, once being pushed for the Heisman Trophy by the University of Maryland, is now playing for the Frederick Falcons against the Carroll County Chargers at Francis Scott Key High School. Manges still wants one last shot at the big time. He's hoping the semipro team coached by his uncle will help him get it.

The odds are greatly against him for one basic reason, according to one National Football League general manager who has followed his career: "He doesn't have an NFL arm. It's that simple."

A once bright college career at Maryland put Manges' face on the cover of Sports Illustrated but ended with him in a battle with Larry Dick for the starting quarterback spot in 1977.

Still, Manges was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the fourth round and given a $20,000 bonus. His stay there was both disastrous and brief. The Rams even asked him for $9,000 of their money back.

Manges then bounced around. He was a St. Louis Cardinal long enough to play half of one quarter of an exhibition game. He was a Philadelphia Eagle for six days. He was cut when the Eagles signed quarterback Joe Pisarcik, now backup to starter Ron Jaworski.

At that point, Manges thought his football career was over at the age of 24. The experience left him feeling frustrated, cheated and hurt.

"I had no confidence in myself because everyone was telling me I was no good," he said. "I wasn't ready to believe that, but I'd run out of chances. No one was going to even take a look at me. I always told myself that when it was over, it was over. I wasn't going to spend my whole life trying to make it."

Two years later, he is still trying. And now, Manges says football is fun again. The pressure is gone. He is more relaxed and probably more confident right now than he's ever been before.

"I know I can still play. All I want is a chance," he said.

The chance came with the Frederick Falcons, mainly because his uncle, Ron Manges, is the coach. "If people say you can't play and you say you can, this is the league for you," said Mark Manges.

"Playing here is like a transition period for Mark," said Ron Manges. "He was disheartened, but still loved the game. It was in his blood. Sure, he wants a shot at the USFL or with another NFL team, but the difference playing here is that when the game ends, you go about your business. Your life doesn't depend on it. You've got to have fun at this level. It's a must."

The Interstate Football League comprises six teams in Frederick, Chambersburg, Pa., Baltimore, Washington, Carroll County (Md.) and Montgomery County. The league powerhouse is Chambersburg, which hasn't lost a regular-season game in five years. The Cardinals were the national minor league runners-up last season, losing to Racine (Wis.), 24-17.

The Chambersburg star is former Ohio State quarterback Greg Hare. "He may be the best quarterback in all of minor league football," said Chambersburg Coach Bob Herstine. "He averages almost 300 yards passing a game and we're 70-5 over the past five years.

"I think the major difference between Greg and Mark is that Greg doesn't particularly want to play at a higher level unless he got an incredible offer. He's a regional sales manager for Xerox and is doing well financially.

"Besides all of that, he's a much better quarterback than Mark. I like Mark as a person and I think he is a great athlete, but he can't make it in the pros as a quarterback. He just doesn't have the arm."

One of Manges' teammates agreed.

"Mark is a good quarterback and leader, but I don't think he has the real strong arm, either," said Stu Himes, a Falcon defensive back. "He's a great athlete and could probably play another position."

Nevertheless, Washington Federals General Manager Dick Myers said the team is very interested in talking to Manges although they have not seen him play yet this season. The Federals have the rights to all former Maryland players.

Frederick is the typical Interstate League team. The only pay is expenses to and from practices and games. They range from $5 for those who live nearby to $40 a week for backup quarterback Bob (The Mad Bomber) Brosmer, who lives in Milford, Del.

The Falcons practice on Wednesday nights at Walkersville High School and play their home games at McCurdy Field in Frederick.

McCurdy seats 5,000 and the Falcons average 2,000. Tickets are $3 for adults and children under 12 are free. Each team can dress 47 players a game. The Frederick 47 come from all over and from virtually all walks of life.

Unlike some of the players, Manges has "had a taste of what it's like (in the pros) and he wants more," says Himes. "To play in this league, though, you've got to enjoy it because you aren't making any money."

They play NFL rules in the Interstate league and it is a wide-open, physical game.

"My first game in this league, they came at me and cracked three ribs," Manges said. "I've been wearing rib pads ever since."

Manges had his poorest passing day of the season two weeks ago against Carroll County, completing only 12 of 30 passes for 109 yards and one touchdown, but Frederick still won, 36-6, to hold onto second place behind Chambersburg. The team planned to celebrate with a few beers.

"The fun thing about this team is that we'd celebrate and have just as good a time even if we'd lost," Manges said. "Everything is in the right perspective here, and I love it. I'm still waiting for that call from the real league, though."