CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Some football players regard taking part on special teams as a type of dues-paying to be tolerated until something better comes along.

Virginia's Tim Finkelston isn't quite as picky.

"I just want to be in there. It doesn't matter where," he said. "The more I'm on the field, the better."

Largely ignored by college recruiters, Finkelston was a walk-on at Virginia, and his perseverance led first to a full scholarship, and more recently to him playing important roles with the Cavaliers' offense and special teams.

The 5-foot-11, 170-pound senior from Cedar Cliff High School in Camp Hill, Pa., was named third-team all-state, but his size and average speed discouraged college scouts.

Division I-AA schools such as Delaware and William and Mary expressed some interest, "and they all wanted me to walk on, too," he said. "But if I was going to walk on, I was going to walk on in Division I."

Finkelston considered Virginia and Penn State. His brother is a student at Virginia, and his father is a former Penn State quarterback. In the end, Finkelston said he felt more comfortable with the overall atmosphere at Virginia.

His high school coach called Virginia Coach George Welsh, who said Finkelston would be welcome to try out with the Cavaliers.

"I still had football in my blood," Finkelston said. "I still wanted to play, just take my shots."

Finkelston spent his freshman season as a member of the scout team, simulating opposing players and generally getting pounded by Virginia's defensive starters.

The next year, Finkelston was the leading receiver in Virginia's final scrimmage of spring drills, and when he came back to school for his sophomore season, he was listed as a second-team wide receiver.

Welsh told him a scholarship would be forthcoming if Finkelston continued to contribute that fall.

"I played every quarter of every game," Finkelston recalled.

Just after the season ended, Finkelston got a message to report to Welsh's office. There, the coach made good on his previous commitment.

"I was ecstatic," Finkelston said. "I always had the attitude to work hard and do your best, and it paid off."

This season, Finkelston is the Cavaliers' sole punt returner, averaging 8.8 yards per return. He also has run back two kickoffs for a 16-yard average.

At wide receiver, Finkelston is the primary backup to starters John Ford and Keith Mattioli. He joins the pair when the Cavaliers go to a three-wideout formation.

Last week against Virginia Tech, Finkelston made his biggest contribution yet.

On the final play of the first quarter, Finkelston worked himself free deep in the Virginia Tech secondary and caught a 49-yard pass from quarterback Scott Secules.

The play gave Virginia first and goal at the Virginia Tech 4-yard line, and three plays later Secules scored on a one-yard keeper that proved to be the winning touchdown.

Finkelston vaguely remembers the rush of emotion he felt immediately after making the catch.

"My mind was away from the stands and everything. I didn't see much or hear the crowd. All that really registered was seeing a couple of guys on the sideline with their arms up in the air," he said.

"Then Keith Mattioli was coming up smacking me on my helmet, and I remember thinking that was usually the kind of stuff I was doing to him after he made a big play. And now here he was, doing it to me."

Finkelston finished the game with three catches for 74 yards.

Mattioli, a graduate student, is in his final year of eligibility. Academically, Ford is a senior, but could play again next year because he sat out 1985 with a knee injury. Either way, Finkelston figures he has a good chance to be a starter in 1988.

"It's still hard to believe, from where I started to where I've come," he said.