There was a time when the Notre Dame-Fairfield football team was highly competitive in the SWC, consistently posting .500 records and occasionally rising to the top. The Lancers even appeared in the Class S title game in 2002.
But those days are in the rearview mirror, and the road ahead appears none too smooth. The task now is to rebuild a team that has taken its lumps in recent years into one that can be competitive each week.
Ted Boyton is the next head coach to step in and give it a shot.
"It's my love for Notre Dame," Boynton said. "I love everything that the school stands for. The kids are great, we're small in numbers, but we're pretty big in heart. The kids work hard every day. I found it to be a challenge. We haven't had the success record-wise in the past few years, but I'm always up for a challenge."
That challenge is stiff. ND has gone 9-42 over the past five seasons under four coaches.
Boyton isn't new to campus, thoug. He was a Lancers' assistant the previous 10 seasons. And he has 30 years of coaching experience -- from Pop Warner to high school varsity.
Notre Dame's bid to gain traction in recent seasons has been stymied by perilously small rosters, sometimes not having enough players to scrimmage each other during practices.
"The numbers are part of it," said Boynton, who has a young, 30-man squad. "I see a lot of talent here; there are a lot of talented sophomores. We are mostly a sophomore/freshman team. Football is a game that goes in cycles. We have to find the positives, and make the kids believe."
Six starters return to a team that was 1-9 a year ago. The Lancers avoided a winless season in their final game with a 26-22 win over Immaculate. Two standouts from that team have graduated -- wide receiver Jalani Roman, playing at the University of New Haven, and lineman Conroy Johnson.
The Lancers will have a new quarterback in 2013. Incumbent starter Matt Moffat tore the labrum on his non-throwing shoulder. He will miss the season. A battle has emerged between freshman Nick Granata and senior Trent Hudson for the starting job. Hudson is a former offensive lineman who has three years of varsity experience.
"(Granata) has been a great surprise," Boynton said. "He can throw the ball; he's been in the passing leagues this past summer in Milford. He's a quick learner, he works hard at it every day and watches film."
Notre Dame will utilize a spread offense that will try to capitalize on matchups on the outside. One of the chief components will be senior Marcus Fulton, who flashed play-making ability in the backfield last year.
"We are hoping to have little successes," Boynton said. "The reason I like the spread is because it gives everyone an opportunity to touch the ball at any given time. We have four receivers, a running back. It keeps everyone on their toes."
Finding wins won't be easy with the Lancers' schedule, which includes trips to Masuk and Bunnell and a homecoming game against New Milford.
The Lancers open their season Thursday against Stratford at Sacred Heart and finish on Thanksgiving against Immaculate at McCarty Stadium.
"All of our attention is toward Stratford, we are gearing up for that," Boynton said. "Every team in the SWC is a great team. We are going to take it one game at a time. An individual might shine in a particular game, but we are going to improve (as) we gel as a team. That's the thing we are stressing -- a team-family concept."
Getting enough kids to participate is one of Boynton's biggest challenges and is one that plagued his predecessors. Patience can be hard to come by in high school football, but with some talented underclassmen as a foundation, Boynton hopes gradual improvement will pay dividends down the road.
"The great thing is that the majority of these guys are going to be around for three or four years," Boynton said. "We're looking to make baby steps. It's been broken around here for a while, and there is no easy solution in the game of football. One step at a time."
Ryan Lacey is a freelance writer.