FAIRFIELD -- Dawon Dicks sits at his desk directly under a poster of a young Muhammad Ali that contains a quote that is even more powerful than the great champion ever delivered with a punch.
"I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was."
Those are not just inspiring words by Ali to Dicks, but a message the new head coach at Notre Dame of Fairfield hopes to instill in his program.
After the school went through three different coaches in four years, it has turned to one of its own to try to build stability and right the ship.
Dicks, a 2000 graduate, was promoted to head coach just a week before the Lancers' opened training camp. Former coach Rico Brogna said he resigned to focus on his baseball scouting with the Tampa Bay Rays after one 1-9 season, which included nine straight losses to start the year.
But Dicks' return -- he was associate coach last year -- gives the program something it has rarely seen in recent years -- continuity.
"I think that's the biggest part of, especially stepping into the role of leading a program," Dicks said. "One, you have to have an idea who your players are, and two, and this is just my opinion, you have to have an idea where they are. What the culture is like."
Dicks not only has experience with the players on the field, but he walks the same halls they do every day on his way to teaching world history classes and physical education.
"Being a teacher in the building, you really get to know some of these guys," Dicks said. "Having been in the classroom here and also having gone here, I think you have a better feel and lay of the land."
The head coach not only has a feel for it, but he could serve as a prime example of what the future could hold for some of the young Lancers if they apply themselves on and off the field. Dixon, from Bridgeport, went on to play football at Georgetown (2004 graduate) and was the school's top student-athlete on the team in 2003.
With an extremely small roster the past few years, it has been difficult for the program to develop leaders on the field. Dicks hopes that changes some day with almost half the players on the 45-man roster he submitted to the athletic director for the upcoming season being freshmen.
Right now, though, only about a dozen players are upperclassmen, including senior linebacker/tight end Jalani Roman and running back/linebacker Sean Edwards. Also back are two quarterbacks (junior Matt Moffat and sophomore Glody Tumba) and junior running back/linebacker Marcus Fulton.
"The hardest part for a group of young guys is `whose example do I follow?'" Dicks said.
Dicks said not having the same amount of players as some other schools is an excuse he's not buying for the lack of success.
"Every person I talk to says, `oh your numbers,' but when I look back to my yearbook pictures and things like that, we had 34, 32, 35 guys," he said. "We all played and went both ways, but in my opinion, we were still a competitive team. That (lack of numbers) really doesn't change my attitude in regards to being able to win."
Dicks has already made plans for his team to be at the SWC championship game on Nov. 15 at Bunnell High School. The chances of the Lancers being more than spectators for the game might seem slim, but the head coach wants his players to experience championship-caliber football.
"It's motivation," he said of the Lancers' underdog role this season. "It gives us something to prove because nobody is going to give us anything.
"You have to go after it and earn it."
Just like a young fighter named Muhammad Ali once did.
firstname.lastname@example.org; http://twitter.com/wspaxton; http://blog.ctnews.com/paxton/