It's going to be a homecoming of sorts for two prominent figures in the Virginia Union football program when the school takes on Bowie State today at 1:30 p.m.

For Virginia Union Coach Joe Taylor, this is a crucial CIAA game in what could be his finest season. For sophomore wide receiver Rodney Hounshell, out of H.D. Woodson High School, the game will provide a measuring stick for an athlete with immense potential.

"It's always good to come home," said Taylor, who attended Cardozo High School and coached in the Interhigh. "But I don't know whether Bowie State is going to make it entertaining or not. They're always tough."

The Panthers (4-0, 2-0 in the CIAA) are fresh off a confidence building 63-26 victory over 10th-ranked New Haven, avenging last year's 62-25 loss. That win nudged them from 12th to 10th in Division II, the team's highest ranking since 1980, when it was ranked fifth.

Virginia Union is averaging 38.5 points a game and is just about as balanced as a team can get, averaging 202.5 yards both in the air and on the ground.

Sophomore wide receiver Hounshell has been doing his part with a CIAA-leading 18 catches for 320 yards and three touchdowns.

"We have a real strong program that has been pretty consistent," said Taylor. "But I think this team is more well-rounded. I'm also very satisfied with its discipline on and off the field. Because of that, I think it's probably better than the others. They're talented and they work hard. They're the closest I've come to what a football team really should be like."

Taylor also is pleased with the academic standing of many of his players. Virginia Union has 35 players with a 2.5 grade-point average or better; 15 are on the dean's list. Taylor has graduated 65 players since being named head coach in 1984.

Taylor's coaching career began as a football and baseball assistant at H.D. Woodson. He also initiated wrestling in the Interhigh and coached Woodson to four straight undefeated seasons in that sport.

After serving as an offensive line coach at Western Illinois, offensive coordinator at Virginia Union and defensive coordinator and interim head coach at Howard, Taylor returned to take over the Virginia Union program.

"The thing that impressed us about Joe is his character," said Wilbert Talley, who was on the school's selection committee. "We thought that would carry over in anything he did with his athletes, and that was particularly significant to us at the time after we weighed all the qualifications.

"He has a solid interest in the young men that are playing for him," Talley said. "He's a disciplinarian, but not domineering. Not only could he coach the game, but he could develop our interest in developing strong young men."

To that end, Taylor has enlisted the talents of a number of Interhigh players, the latest being Hounshell.

Coming out of H.D. Woodson in 1988 as an All-Met in football, baseball and track, Hounshell was recruited by a number of Division I schools, but did not have high enough SAT scores to be eligible. He decided to enroll at Central State in Ohio, but never became comfortable there.

"I got a little homesick," said Hounshell. "I wanted to have my parents there to come watch me play. I didn't have that at Central. I was used to everyone being there after the games. At Central, I would go off the field and be lonely."

With some persuasion from his brother, Ramon, a former Virginia Union defensive back, and permission from the VU athletic department to play basketball, Hounshell opted to transfer.

After sitting out a year, he quickly has regained his form.

"He's got tremendous quickness," said Taylor. "A lot of receivers can catch the ball, but he can do something with it. Every time he catches the ball, he's a bet to go the distance."

Blessed with 4.5 speed, decent size (6 feet 1, 190 pounds) and aggressiveness, Hounshell already has received praise from NFL scouts, according to Taylor.

But if he falls short of the NFL, Taylor or Virginia Union will not be disappointed in him. And if any of Taylor's values have brushed off, Hounshell will not be disappointed in himself.