At home games, the Howard Bison play to overflow crowds. For the South Carolina State game here two weeks ago, a contingent of familiar professional football players showed up: the Giants' Harry Carson, Atlanta's Charlie Brown, former Cowboy Dextor Clinkscale and William Judson of the Miami Dolphins, among others. They're all South Carolina State products. But they were watching from the Howard side of the field. They were there because of the coach.

Willie Jeffries, 49, came to Howard four years ago from South Carolina State, where he won five Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championships in six seasons and coached Harry Carson and all his friends. Arriving at Howard Feb. 1, 1984, Jeffries quickly recruited an outstanding group of freshmen (the best known being running back Harvey Reed, a pro prospect), and has kept the talent flowing in. Just as significantly, he has kept the talent from flowing out before its time.

Jeffries has worked successfully to keep his players academically eligible in a school with an academic tradition. When he arrived, he found conspicuously few eligible upperclassmen. He knew a team could not go far without experienced players.

"We've been trying hard to keep players on the football team," said Jeffries. "Just their accomplishments in the classroom, that's what I like about this team. Academic awareness and academic integrity.

"You had to lay down real strict rules about class attendance, preparing their homework, getting ready for their exams. And it worked us pretty hard as coaches, but we saw to it the freshmen and sophomores were secure academically. Because we knew we weren't going to build a football team without juniors and seniors on the team. So we just rode herd on them, so to speak."

A dapper dresser, Jeffries wore a white sweater with a Howard inscription in blue. He had on a blue-striped tie, and sharply creased dark blue slacks. There is gray in his hair.

He works out of an obscure office, tucked near the end of a narrow hallway. But his phone rings often, and there are repeated knocks at his door. He's a hub of activity, even if it may be hard to get there from here.

For good reason: In his first three seasons at Howard, with only a handful of seniors each year, Jeffries played his young recruits, starting more than a dozen freshmen his first season. His records were 2-8 and 4-7 with a "conservative brand of football so that we could be in the ball games." His young players learned.

Then came last fall's 8-3, ending with seven straight victories. The winning streak reached 10 this season -- Jeffries has the game ball from the South Carolina State game on his desk -- before the Bison lost to Towson State over the weekend. "We have to go out and start another streak," said Jeffries. That would begin Saturday at home, against Virginia State.

Chances are the Bison will continue to be successful, given Jeffries' 50-13-4 record at South Carolina State. From his first day at Howard, he sought players "who had been accustomed to attending classes. We didn't just bring in young men in '84 -- the class that's been the cornerstone of football success for Howard. We tried to bring in ones with academic preparation. And we sacrificed athletic ability at times to get a good student.

"We feel that we're gaining. We're doing it on a gradual basis, keeping the young men in school so they'll be juniors and seniors. It's been my philosophy all the time, when you hurry up and do something you're not going to build a house as well as you would if you take your time. And that's the way I'm approaching building the football program." Pleased with his sophomores and freshmen, as well, Jeffries said Howard will have "the continuity." The tradition.

Clearly, he is a football architect with credentials. He says, "I've been exposed to good football programs since I was in the ninth grade."

The high school team Jeffries played on, Sims High of Union, S.C., won 93 straight. The coach, James F. Moorer, was "well ahead of his time as far as Xs and Os." At South Carolina State, he played for Roy D. Moore -- "He was real good at teaching the fundamentals of football. Both of these guys cared a lot about their players, and that's where I get the part about coaching on and off the field."

Jeffries coached as an assistant at North Carolina A&T, learning from Hornsby Howell, described by Jeffries as a disciplinarian with the bulk to back up his words -- about 6 feet 8, 280 pounds. Says Jeffries, with a fond remembrance, "Not only did he look it, they called him 'Ivan the Terrible.' And he was that. But he had a heart of gold."

Jeffries took over at South Carolina State in 1973, after two years as an assistant at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1979, Wichita State beckoned.

At the time, there was no black head coach in NCAA Division I-A football. "My thirst for major college football had not been satiated," said Jeffries, "and I just felt it was time for me, or some black person, to embark in the major college ranks . . . "

Turning around Wichita (it has since dropped football) was no easy task, he discovered. "It was tough recruiting on the plains of Kansas. Football wasn't big in Wichita and it wasn't big in the Missouri Valley Conference, which was predominately a basketball conference.

His records: 1-10, 5-5-1, 4-6-1, then 8-3 in 1982. He says, "We thought we had it going after the '82 season."

But Wichita State, already penalized by the NCAA outside of football, had its football program under Jeffries put on probation for a recruiting violation. Jeffries explained: "We knew we were riding in a truck with nitroglycerin, that you couldn't stand a bump. Not like being at another school where you didn't have the nitro and you could stand the wreckage and you might survive."

The bump came, he said, "when a new coach, who had been a junior college coach, picked up an athlete at his home town and brought him to our campus . . . I didn't know he had the kid in the car until he was about 10 miles out of Wichita." That was a violation, which Jeffries said the assistant didn't realize. Another which he said the assistant didn't know was giving the same prospect a sandwich. In addition, a graduate assistant helped with the driving, and that was a violation. Then, the recruit's mother, according to Jeffries, "said that we had asked her to say that the young man came up on the bus.

"I categorically denied it because we didn't do that. {But} we couldn't prove to {the NCAA} that we didn't."

At the time, Jeffries was a candidate for the Army head coaching job, but Army picked Jim Young. Then Jeffries' 1983 Wichita State team went 3-8 as his quarterback prospect flunked out of school. After the season, the Howard job came open. "When I assessed the situation at Wichita, and how tough it was going to be, not merely because of the NCAA sanctions, I thought it would be a better professional move for me to come to Howard. I felt that I could win and be successful at a I-AA school with high academic standards.

"Some people think it was a less than horizontal move when you go from major college to I-AA. I really don't think so because I thought I had a better chance of winning here once I developed the program. I had a longer stick to fight with. I felt I could go out and recruit athletes based on the academic tradition here. And it has worked out thus far."

It has worked, he said, even though he failed to get the athletic director's job he applied for last year. William Moultrie, who has coached the Howard track team the last 14 years, was named. "It's not bothering me," said Jeffries, "because we've been able to work with Mr. Moultrie real well. I guess I applied for it because sometimes it's easier to run a program by having one less person to go through. But we've not had any problems or friction whatsoever. And now the way I look at it, it's tough to coach a football program with over 100 players in it and then administer a 17-sport athletic program."

While Jeffries' contract runs out after this season, he said, "I'd like to stay. I happen to be happy here. It's hard for me to go to another predominantly black school and inherit the type of program we have here now. The only vertical upward mobility I would have would be to go back to a I-A school, or the pros, and I'm not really interested in that right now."