Three years ago, officials at Gonzaga High School, which had won only two games in five years in the Metro Conference, withdrew the Northwest Washington school from the league.

"We dropped out because we were getting overpowered all the time, getting beat physically by the conference teams," said Joe Kozik, who was athletic director for more than 25 years before he was named the special assistant to the school's president for alumni and athletic affairs this year.

"Our agreement was to try the independent route for two years, see what happens and reapply to the conference."

The Metro Conference welcomed back Gonzaga this season, but it is not the woeful team opponents were accustomed to beating up on in past years. Coach Mark Gowin restructured the program and regenerated interest, and the Eagles' 6-3 record last year was the first time the school had finished above .500 in 14 years.

Picking up where it left off, Gonzaga has won its first three games handily. It will receive its biggest test so far in Saturday's conference opener at 1:30 p.m. at Carroll (3-0), the top-ranked team in the area.

"We've improved each game this year and can only improve more each week," said Gowin, in his fourth year as coach.

Carroll, which has a 17-game winning streak, has not been pressed this year, having outscored its three opponents, 93-6. Ten players have scored for Carroll, evidence that the supposedly rebuilding defending conference champions are stronger than expected.

"We felt we'd win all our nonleague games," said Gowin. "If we could win half our conference games, that would give us a 7-3 mark and that would be a very good mark for our first year back."

Gonzaga has talent in running back Frank Leonard (five touchdowns), receiver Sean Creamen, quarterbacks Dan Leonard and Guy Lombardi, nose guard Edgar Davis and linebackers Mike Williams and Tim Mulholland.

"Our first-team defense hasn't given up a point yet," Gowin said. "Beating Georgetown Prep (35-12) for the first time in 14 years was a big win for us."

In key games today, fourth-ranked Friendly (3-0) is host to eighth-ranked Crossland (3-0) in a Prince George's AA game; 12th-ranked Fort Hunt (3-1) is at 14th-ranked Edison (4-0) in a Virginia AAA Gunston District game; 15th-ranked Annandale (3-1) plays at Fairfax (2-2) in a Potomac District game, and McKinley (1-2) travels to 16th-ranked Theodore Roosevelt (3-1) for their Interhigh West Division opener at 3:15.

Other Saturday games include third-ranked Seneca Valley (3-0) risking its 25-game winning streak against visiting Whitman (2-1), and seventh-ranked Springbrook (3-0) playing host to Gaithersburg (2-1). Both are Montgomery County AA games.