They are following in their fathers' footsteps. And if the helmet and cleats do not fit, they'd like to find out before they go to college.

For a handful of high school football players in the Washington area, the ideal athletic models are their fathers, former college or professional players and coaches. Certain advantages naturally come with such a situation, but so do frustrations.

Dan Henning, assistant coach for the Redskins, played quarterback in college and in the pros and has spent most of his coaching career tutoring quarterbacks.

Dan Henning Jr. became aware of football at the age of 4. He has been throwing spirals ever since. "In our house," the father says, "he didn't have a choice."

Dan Jr., 17, is a 6-foot, 175-pound senior starting quarterback for Annandale High School. Annandale Coach Bob Hardage says he has exceptional poise.

It's no wonder. His father often discusses upcoming opponents' defensive alignments, and after the games, Henning critiques his son's technical performance.

Father and son are similar phys- ically. And Danny can evaluate his father's abilities by watching a tape the Hennings own of the 1959 New York City high school football title game.

"Both of us are pretty good passers," Danny says.

Henning proudly points to his son's performances under pressure. Twice in the last two years, Danny has thrown winning touchdown passes for Annandale on the last play of a game.

"He makes the big play," Henning says. "He throws the ball well, and he's been fortunate to be associated with a well-coached program."

Although his father never pushed him into football, Danny naturally took an interest because of his father's involvement. And although his father never pushed him to be a Redskins fan, Danny saw no alternative. He says, "It's like if your parents worked at a bank, and you had your money at a different bank. That might not work out."

Terry Metcalf is 5-10, 185, a 31-year-old retired running back whose size was not often a problem during a fine, nine-year professional football career.

At 14, Eric Metcalf is already 5-8 and 155 pounds, and he'll soon be large enough to stiff-arm his father on the way to the kitchen from the living room. "I think I'm going to be bigger," Eric Metcalf says with a laugh.

"I suspect he'll be a lot better athlete than I," Terry Metcalf says.

"He'll be the best back ever at Bishop O'Connell," said Coach Fred Benevento. "The kid's got it. I wish I could say I taught him everything he knows, but he came here with it. All you had to do is watch him one time, and you knew it."

After growing up in Seattle with his mother, Eric moved to his father's home in Arlington this year. "Everybody I knew back home would tell me how good he was," says Terry Metcalf, now director of player relations for the Washington Federals. "They weren't lying to me."

The elder Metcalf, who himself is making the difficult adjustment from player to ex-player, constantly prepares Eric for life after football by emphasizing a sharp mind and good grades. Because of a broken right hand suffered this season, Eric has gotten his first exposure to such a life. "I've gotten used to it," he says, "but when it first happened, it was very, very tough."

Eric Metcalf will play basketball and run track at O'Connell, but those sports are just ways to pass the time and stay in shape for football. He often studies game films his father has at home, and then he goes outside and practices the moves he saw.

But Eric Metcalf does not necessarily pattern himself after his father. "Herschel Walker's my man," he says. "I like to root for him. I want to be big like him."

Mature for his age, Eric, when asked, can quickly and accurately analyze his father's football abilities.

"His strong points: he knows when to cut and make his moves. He has a good idea of where people are on the field. His weak points?" Eric pauses briefly. "Fumbles, sometimes.

"And his size. That's it."

It was only natural for the son of Ralph Guglielmi to stand behind the center the first time he saw a football. But, Guglielmi, whose father was all-America at Notre Dame, was a first-round draft pick and a quarterback in the NFL for eight years, four with the Redskins, just didn't have the quickness, agility or patience for the position.

"Quarterback just wasn't for me," said the younger Guglielmi, a 6-foot, 210-pound senior defensive end at Whitman. "They ran away from people and I like running into people. Although my dad didn't pressure me, I tried to play quarterback. I played in the boys club and was a reserve quarterback in the 10th grade at Whitman. But I got real discouraged and frustrated because I wasn't playing. When I did play, I didn't do very well. The switch to defensive end was the best move I ever made. It was real load off my mind."

Guglielmi agreed.

"Sometimes it's difficult to follow in the footsteps of a father," said Guglielmi, general manager of a car dealership in Northern Virginia. "But Ralph has good talents, good possibilities. I know I place a lot of demands on him and am very critical. Fathers are like that. I've tried to stay away from that coach/father's role because he has coaches at school. But we talk a lot about the game and I hope I've been some help to him."

The last thing Tori Vactor wants is to be recognized because of his father, Ted Vactor, a former NFL defensive back with the Redskins and Chicago Bears and now head coach and assistant athletic director at the University of the District of Columbia.

"My father introduced me to the sport but I want to make a name for myself, not make it off his," said Vactor, a 5-11, 170-pound junior tailback/cornerback at Northwood. "I tried to imitate everything he did on the field when I was young but I can't do that anymore. A lot of people have forgotten he played for the 'Skins and I can't get by saying I'm his son."

Despite playing with a dislocated shoulder, a pulled leg muscle and an assortment of other bumps and bruises, Vactor is one of the team leaders in rushing, touchdowns (10), interceptions and heart. He missed only one game, only because Coach Brady Straub felt his star player needed to recuperate.

"He's a tough kid, no doubt about it," said Ted Vactor. "He has natural instincts for the game and makes smart plays. I didn't really give him or my 12-year-old son Aaron any encourgement. We don't even talk about football, I don't even play catch with them. I just didn't want them to feel they had to play because of me."

In the Beathard household, dinner may consist of chicken, steak or pasta, but the main course of any meal is football.

Redskins General Manager Bobby Beathard's three eldest sons all are playing college or high school football, making the dining room table often seem like a makeshift huddle.

"My mom's always trying to change the subject," says Casey Beathard.

Kurt Beathard, 19, now plays at a California junior college; before that, at Oakton High School, he was the team's quarterback. Brothers Jeff, 18, and Casey, 16, played at Oakton this year. All have benefited from their father's 19 years experience of professional scouting. In between judging the relative merits of John Elway and Dan Marino, Bobby Beathard tells his sons what they're doing wrong.

The Beathard brothers have been aided by spending the past few summers at the Redskins training camp in Carlisle, Pa. And, perhaps more so than any other players at Oakton, they support each other. "I probably treat my brother better than I do the other players," says Casey, a 5-8, 150-pound junior quarterback.

Oakton Coach Jim Williams points out one of the best things about a parent in the game: "He understands the game, he understands the problems," Williams says. "Because of that, he's really sympathetic and more aware of what's going on than most parents. He's never been critical. He's been an asset."

Every Friday night, Madison linebacker Richie Petitbon knew his father was sitting in the stands with the binoculars trained on him. At the end of the game, Petitbon knew he would hear about every missed assignment and missed tackle in addition to the outstanding plays.

Petitbon spent the last 23 years involved with the NFL, the first 14 as an outstanding defensive back. Now he monitors his son's career. When Petitbon entered the 10th grade, his father and varsity Coach Chuck Sell agreed a year on junior varsity was in his best interests.

A 6-3, 215-pound senior, Petitbon benefited from his father's present position as an assistant coach with the Redskins and worked out with the weights often at Redskin Park.

"Richie has greatly improved and I would think his father had a lot to do with that," Sell said. "But we don't treat Richie any differently and he doesn't expect us to. He's a good player."

"I've gotten much stronger and I can make the tough tackles inside," Petitbon said. "I'm a lot bigger, faster and stronger than my father was when he was a senior in high school. He actually went to school on a track scholarship. I'm a little quicker than I was last year, too. My father actually wanted me to be a quarterback but I switched. And I'm glad."