Quarterbacks have certain obligations. In training camp, they must look terrific at poolside stretched out on chaise lounges. They must be as handsome as Clark Gable and every bit as glib. And to their teammates, they must radiate both the recklessness of the young and the control of the mature.

For fulfilling those obligations, for knowing what he can and cannot do, Kim McQuilken will start at quarterback for the Washington Federals in their first game on Sunday against the Chicago Blitz.

McQuilken is not in that position solely because he looks great on television or can talk to his croops with the confidence of Charlemagne. In training camp, McQuilken proved he can throw well and run out of the pocket.

Still, McQuilken's NFL career statistics do little to guarantee his success. In four years with the Atlanta Falcons, McQuilken completed less than 40 percent of his passes. In his three years with the Redskins, he threw the ball only four times, once for a completion, once for an interception and twice for nothing at all.

When he retired from the game after the 1980 season, McQuilken entered into the insurance business. The birth of the USFL, however, had him back in pads.

"I guess I missed the people," said McQuilken. "They told me I would get a good shot here. I don't need to be all-pro or all-America. I know it sounds corny, but I'm just happy to be playing."

That's the thing about McQuilken: He's smart enough to know when he's being sappy and confident enough not to care.

Before training camp ended in Jacksonville, the 32-year-old veteran watched on the sidelines of the Gator Bowl while rookie Mike Hohensee completed 15 of 22 passes, including two for touchdowns, as the Federals beat the Birmingham Stallions, 31-21.

Ever since Hohensee, a fifth-round draft choice from Minnesota, joined the Federals a week into camp, coaches had been saying his arm was a Winchester. After nearly three weeks of misfires, Hohensee finally proved his caliber.

Again, McQuilken, the insurance man, refused to betray worry or regret.

"I'm glad Mike did so well," he said. "I can't worry about what anyone else does. I'm just glad we have two quarterbacks who can play."

Hohensee, for his part, denied there is any rivalry simmering between the two. "Kim and I get along real well. When you don't like the guy you're competing against, it's an all-out war. Nothing the other guy does is right. But when you like him, you help each other."

Hohensee has gone for advice to the more experienced McQuilken often in training camp and in practice. The offensive coordinator, Dick Bielski, has installed essentially the same system and terminology that McQuilken learned under Joe Walton with the Redskins. At one time or another, all of the team's rookies have had a rough time translating Bielski's diagrams into physical action.

"With the Redskins I was the young kid with the Over the Hill Gang," said McQuilken. "Now I'm the older guy trying to help everybody else along."

Not for nothing did the Federals have Craig James share a room with McQuilken at camp. "In college we pretty much went into the games with four or five running plays and a couple of passes. I need all the help from this guy that I can get," James said, gesturing to the sunbathing McQuilken.

Coach Ray Jauch admits that while Hohensee has more natural physical ability than McQuilken, he is going with experience for now. Nearly every coach and general manager in the league started out by trying to obtain an experienced quarterback.

Chicago will start 36-year-old Greg Landry, who played 14 seasons with the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Colts.

"With so many rookies and second-year players, it's important to have someone with some experience in the leadership position," said Jauch.

With a seasoned player at the helm, Jauch is hoping that young players like James will be in a position to shine. Hohensee once threw 67 passes, with 44 completions, for 444 yards and five touchdowns against Ohio State. The coaches are waiting for the day when his talent will be as polished as it is abundant.

"I just got a new place in Alexandria," said Hohensee. "I get lost every day without fail." In the interim, while the younger man is still finding his way, McQuilken will be handing out the directions to the Washington Federals.