When Ted Boynton took over the Notre Dame-Fairfield football team this season as head coach, he did not start contemplating a state championship victory parade. Why should he have? It wasn't promising to be that type of year.
After all, he inherited a small roster with but five seniors to provide leadership. His young team has absorbed bumps in starting out with a 36-13 loss to Stratford, followed by a 55-6 loss at Masuk last week. The Lancers play at Oxford (1-1) on Friday night. But Notre Dame is showing signs of growth, and exhibiting a sticktoitiveness needed for any team to compete now and in the future.
"We know it's a long road ahead of us," Boynton said earlier this week. "We're taking baby steps every day. We need to get to the next level. We're thinking ahead to get our first victory. We're working on perfecting our systems.
"The way to do that is working hard and believing in the systems in place. The coaching staff is working hard on seeing if something in our system isn't working that we perfect it. We're making the kids believe in themselves and in our system."
The systems right now, regardless of how well conceived and carefully implemented, are being stressed. The season began with 31 players on the team, with five junior to complement as many seniors. The bulk of the roster is heavily dotted with sophomores and freshman. Boynton is confident those returning next fall will learn from the 2013 season and be better positioned to be even more competitive over the next two to three years.
But the Lancers aren't there yet. The seeds for improvement have been planted; now it's the players and coaches' task to nurture the building blocks for success.
Though the loss margin grew from 23 points to 49 points from the season-opener to game No. 2, Boynton has seen progress. "We improved from game one to game two, although the scores haven't shown that," he said. "We're getting to the right places, but now we have to get there quicker.
"We have the heart and the will. The morale is up, and the kids are enthusiastic."
On defense, though, the inexperience is showing. Players lacking experience, in all sports at all levels, tend to make mistakes. And many coaches, at all levels of sports, often agree that seeing what caused mistakes, along with evaluation, is the best way for athletes to learn.
"We're giving up a lot of points, but a lot of that is from inexperience," Boynton said. "Through repetition, and working hard in practice, we expect to get better at it from week to week."
Fifteen Lancers' defensive players are playing offense, too, and 11 of them are starting on both sides of the ball. Complicating matters are three key injuries. Freshman quarterback Nick Granata, who earned the starter's role in the preseason, has yet to play, battling a shoulder injury. The Lancers were awaiting word on his return through another doctor's examination on Wednesday. Sophomore Bill Kelly, an outside linebacker and slot receiver, has played in the first two games but is recovering from a hip pointer. Will Peterson, a junior transfer from Staples, has a high ankle sprain. The 6-foot-1 inch, 230-pound offensive and defensive tackle ran for the first time earlier this week in practice.
"It will be very good for our team when he comes back," Boynton said of Peterson.
Three players have been standing out thus far, Boynton said. Austin Camacho, a senior wide receiver and defensive back, was a unanimous choice in the preseason to become the Lancers' fourth captain. Senior middle linebacker Derek Hudson, a captain, has filled in admirably at quarterback. Sophomore Noel Santaella Jr. has made strong and reliable contributions as an offensive guard and defensive tackle.