op draft choice Craig James scored the Washington Federals' first and only touchdown today in a controlled scrimmage against the Birmingham Stallions on a 47-yard run around left end that the tailback from Southern Methodist called "a pretty good way to start off the new year."

James ran the ball only three times in the exercise between United States Football League teams in the Gator Bowl. He totaled 10 yards on the other two carries. Birmingham also was held to one touchdown, on its third of four possessions.

"I figured I'd better do something," James said. "That's what they're paying me all this money to do."

The scrimmage format allowed the coaches direct on-the-field contact with the players. The majority of the Federals' 66-man roster participated in the drill that ran 90 minutes and allowed both squads their first taste of USFL competition.

"I thought this league would be a tougher brand of football than what I saw in college," James said, "but I had no idea professional ball would be this much better. There was a lot of hard hitting out there today, even if the field was a little sloppy, and lots of folks were flying around."

Kim McQuilken, a seven-year NFL veteran who spent most of his time in a backup role with the Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins, started the contest at quarterback for the Federals.

After a sluggish start, McQuilken found another former Redskin, tight end Phil DuBois, over the middle for a 27-yard strike. On the next play, James slammed off left tackle on his third carry of the day, smashed into a pileup that offered little daylight, then bounced around the corner and raced untouched into the end zone. Obed Ariri kicked the extra point.

"I just blasted into the middle," James said. "There was no room so I cut back, running into about three guys. But once I bounced back and found the opening, it was clear sailing from there. It felt good to score the first time out."

The all-Southwest Conference performer was obviously delighted by his first outing against league opposition. He noted, however, that the Federals "can all improve. We've got to work and work and work harder. Once we get a look at the film, we'll be able to see what we did wrong and concentrate on working out our mistakes."

"In about four, five or six weeks, I assure you there's going to be a lot of good football out there. There's lots of talent, I promise."

No less auspicious was the debut of unheralded Stallions quarterback Bob Lane. He directed Birmingham's second-team offense 70 yards in eight plays, a neat five-minute operation in which he completed three of four passes, all of those short throws over the middle.

Cornelius Quarles, a bruising runner from Howard University, gained 11 yards, then six yards and a touchdown on slashes off tackle. Scott Norwood (James Madison U., Jefferson High School in Annandale, Va.) made the extra point.

Reggie Collier, the touted first-round draft choice from the University of Southern Mississippi, started at quarterback for the Stallions but saw only limited action. Collier, labeled by some professional scouts an equal or better in potential to Stanford's John Elway and Pittsburgh's Dan Marino this past college season, began well, directing the first unit downfield virtually on his own. Unable to find open receivers, Collier was forced out of the pocket by the Federals' stingy, swarming defense, which was led by linemen Drew Taylor and Coy Bacon and middle linebacker Ed Baxley. Collier's 12-play drive ended at the Federals' 13-yard line.

For the Federals, quarterbacks Mike Hohensee, Mike Nott and Chris Garrity could not establish much of anything in their turns at calling signals. Untimely penalties, missed passes and quarterback sacks kept them within their own territory most of the day.