John Avila, captain of the football team at Stuart High School in Falls Church, remained in a coma and in critical condition last night with a brain injury incurred in a varsity game Friday night at Edison High School in Alexandria.

Eileen Hoffman, nursing supervisor at Alexandria Hospital, said Avila, 17, a senior, still was on a life support system. "There has been no change in his condition," she said.

Manny Fierro, a spokesman for the family, said yesterday: "There has been no improvement whatsoever. He has not responded at all to treatment. The family is resigned to the fact that the worst is almost at hand. They are not giving up hope, but they don't see much down the road."

Avila, one of two Stuart players to play both offense and defense, left the field Friday night in the third period after making a tackle and complaining of a headache and dizziness. He collapsed several minutes later and was taken by ambulance to Alexandria Hospital, where he underwent 4 1/2 hours of surgery early Saturday morning to relieve swelling on his brain.

Avila, described yesterday by his coach, Tom Arehart, as "the best-conditioned player on our team," played offensive guard and middle linebacker. Arehart said Avila had played football at Stuart since a freshman, played both ways on the junior varsity as a 10th grader and also saw spot duty on defense while an offensive starter last year.

On Saturday, Moises Avila said he had not been in favor of his son playing full time, "but he wanted to do it . . . He loved the game." He said he told Arehart at the hospital Friday night it was "a mistake" for his son to play both ways.

In an interview yesterday, Arehart said he sympathized with the Avila family, but that John Avila was enthusiastic about playing linebacker and had come to him several times in preseason practice and requested the added responsibilities.

"The worst thing for me is that someone would think that I would want to hurt a kid," Arehart said in an emotional telephone interview. "We are constantly talking to our kids about safety, safety, safety. We preach it constantly.

"I am not second-guessing myself on that. This is just a one-in-a-million kind of thing. It's very tough for me to live with this. I've always said the one thing that will get me out of coaching -- and I've been doing this for 22 years -- is kids getting hurt. I cannot handle kids getting hurt.

"I don't think the fact that he plays both ways had anything to do with this. I would say that 70 percent of the schools in Fairfax County have kids on their teams going both ways. Edison {the team Stuart played} had four or five kids doing it. We do it because the quality of athletes is not there. You play your best kids."

He said he decided to allow Avila to play linebacker after Stuart lost a starter in last week's opener. The school, with an enrollment of 1,531, is one of the smallest in Virginia's Northern Region. Arehart said he has about 30 varsity-caliber players/

"We don't have a lot of great athletes," he said. "Our starting linebacker had fractured his leg and John came to me and said, 'I want to play linebacker.' We worked him there all week. It was my decision. He was one of our best athletes. There was no question in any of our minds that he could do it."

Arehart also said he has studied the films of the game "over and over and I can't see anything that would show us how he got hurt. I checked with him all during the game about how he felt. We checked with him at halftime. He looked so refreshed I almost said to him, 'You look like you haven't made a tackle.' I was joking with him.

"When he was hurt, I didn't realize he had come out of the game. Then I turned around and saw him talking to our trainer, John Dwyer. I heard the trainer ask him, 'How you doing?' John said, 'I have a headache.' Dwyer said, 'Do you know the score?' John said, 'No.' I figured he had a concussion. The next time I looked, he was lying on the bench. Then he was on the ground. When I saw that, I bolted over there. We thought he had fainted. I stayed with him until they got him in the ambulance."

Arehart and his coaching staff went from the game to Alexandria Hospital and stayed there until early Saturday. He met with the team at 8 a.m. Saturday to tell his players the severity of the injury.

"I told them that I didn't know what was going to happen," he said, "but I knew that John wanted us to stay together as a team, that he would want us to keep playing. He wasn't a quitter. He's just such a great kid. We were very close; he was always stopping by to talk to me or the other coaches.

"We're going to dedicate this season to him. Not to help us win games, but for the things he stands for, his sportsmanship, his dedication to the team. At the meeting, we all cried, we tried to console each other. It's just so difficult . . . I'm told people view me as a hard-nosed coach. But I'm devastated by this. We all are."

He and Athletic Director David Morgan said Avila had taken the physical required by the Virginia High School League. They were not certain if it had been performed by a doctor hired by the school for its athletes or by the family doctor.

Arehart said Avila had not been hurt earlier this season and had participated in every practice since they began in mid-August. He said all his players have excellent equipment, including either a new or reconditioned helmet. "No one on this team gets a helmet that hasn't been properly fitted or conditioned," he said.

He said Avila's helmet has not been found. "We found his shoulder pads, but we don't know what happened to the helmet, if it got lost in the confusion or if someone took it. We want to find it."

Yesterday at the hospital, friends, relatives, teammates and students arrived in a steady stream most of the day to visit the family in the intensive care waiting area.

Plans were being made for a prayer service tonight at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Falls Church.