John Javis could start for Howard University's football team as a split end, flanker, cornerback or quarterback. But the next time the Bison take the field, as the 20th-ranked team in Division I-AA, he will be returning kickoffs.

Seeing the redshirt sophomore with the 4.4 speed languish on the sidelines distresses many Howard fans and coaches because there are few teams in America who can afford to keep their best all-around athlete away from the action.

Javis' problem is that Howard Coach Willie Jeffries considers having two dependable quarterbacks a priority, and Javis is the second best the Bison have at running their offense. Jeffries has begrudgingly opted to have Javis sit out much of the time rather than risk injury playing full time at another position. Even Jeffries, however, can not resist allowing Javis to return kickoffs on occasion.

Junior quarterback Lee DeBose established himself as a master directing Jeffries' dive-option and is a key reason the Bison have Division I-AA's No. 1 rushing offense, averaging 381 yards per game. His moves and deception with the pitchout have helped open the way for tailback Harvey Reed, the nation's leading rusher with 148.3 yards per game.

When DeBose had to sit out two weeks ago with a pulled groin muscle, Javis stepped in to rush for 102 yards and tied a school record with four touchdowns. Saturday, against North Carolina A&T, Javis started but was replaced by DeBose.

"Javis needs to be on the field somewhere," Jeffries said. "We just don't know where. Our problem is that, because of the option offense we play, the chance of a quarterback getting injured is such that you must have two quarterbacks. Javis will kid about wanting to play another position, but he knows his value to this team."

Last year, before DeBose took control and led Howard on a seven-game winning streak, Jeffries quietly hoped Javis wouldtake command of the offense. But it was DeBose who emerged as the starter.

"Last year, I told {quarterbacks and receivers} coach {Kermit} Blount I wanted to stick with the receivers," said Javis, who is 5 feet 10, 185 pounds and only occasionally regrets not accepting a scholarship offer to Clemson. "He said if I really wanted to make the switch, we could talk about it, but when I went home over the summer, my father {John Jr.} told me my time would come. He told me not to be a quitter and never to give up."

As a kickoff returner, Javis ranks sixth in I-AA with a 28.3-yard average. He is averaging 6.1 yards per rush, occasionally being used on end-arounds when he lines up at wide receiver, but he has yet to catch a pass.

"Lee is not going to lose his job because of an injury," said Jeffries. "But if we run 75 plays, we might be able to get Javis in at quarterback for about 25 of them. That would give Lee a chance to look at defenses from the sideline."

Their rivalry has only strengthened the friendship of Javis and DeBose.

"We get along fine; we are like brothers," said Javis. "We go out to practice every day and when he makes a good move, he will say, 'Did you see that?' and I will step in and try to make a better one. I really don't mind the position I am in because if Lee DeBose can go in and get the job done, that's all right with me. I just want to be on a winning football team."

Javis admits that his performance at quarterback was good for him.

"I feel at ease now," he said. "I didn't have any doubts I could do it, but I think some of the other guys did. Now that I have done that, I have the patience to wait for my turn."