The sky is still a subtle pink, with the sun straining to rise, when first-year Catholic coach Rick Novak commences practice at 6:45 each morning. The 1990 season is dawning for the Cardinals, with three former local high school stars returning to Washington to catalyze the team's offense.

With the school's all-time leading rusher Karl Kohl (2,406 yards) now graduated and the running backs coach, Novak will turn to a pair of former McNamara teammates to propel Catholic's ground game. Sophomore transfers Derek Savoy, from Livingstone (N.C.), and Debraire Meekins, from Fordham, are starting. The two, along with wide receiver-cornerback Ed Sullivan (a former All-Met from Georgetown Prep who also transferred from Fordham) are expected to lead Catholic in its effort to repeat last year's 8-2 mark.

"Pretty much, they'll be a good part of our offense this year," Novak said.

In the Cardinals' 22-20 season-opening victory over Johns Hopkins Saturday, Meekins was indeed a good part of the offense, gaining 107 yards on 25 carries and scoring one touchdown. Sullivan, playing wide receiver after starting at cornerback, had a 33-yard run off a reverse. Savoy, however, played sparingly because of a sprained right knee. He managed 46 yards on the ground.

Sullivan, 5 feet 11, 175 pounds, left the New York school in the middle of his second semester, opting for Catholic, where his father, Jack, is the women's basketball coach, and his mother and sister are alums. He finished fourth in the Colonial Conference in receiving during his year with Fordham. With strong family ties here, and a desire to remain close to home, Sullivan says he is not fazed by the Cardinals' Division III status. "Division III doesn't make me worse as a player," said Sullivan, who never experienced a loss during four years at Georgetown Prep. "Besides, I don't like losing {Fordham won two games in 1989}. Here they're not holding us back."

Meekins, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, said he left Fordham looking for continuity in a program -- and for wins. "There was a quick chance to start when I first went there. But they weren't prepared for the transition from Division III to I-AA {this year}. Now they're losing and they don't have the facilities," he said.

Motivation is not hard to come by for the 5-10, 185-pound Meekins -- one of his McNamara coaches once told him he could never play college football.

"It was really a slap in the face," he said. "But I had recruiters talking to me from Air Force and other good schools, so I've used that {remark} to my benefit."

The 6-2, 220-pound Savoy, who scored three touchdowns in McNamara's 24-7 defeat of DeMatha his senior year, said he was looking for a challenge, academically and athletically. "The work was too easy and I absolutely hated being away from home." His low point at Livingstone, where he started at fullback: a midseason loss to UDC, who had lost 23 consecutive games to that point.

"I learned from last year," Savoy said. "Now I'm ready to win here."