Two words that have not gone together in the recent history of Fairfield Warde High School are football and expectations.

But the 2011 campaign could change all that.

On the heels on consecutive 5-5 seasons, the Mustangs think this could be the year where they join the conversation of elite teams in the FCIAC. Warde has a varsity roster with more than 60 players, and expects to surprise many in the league.

"I think it is something new here," Mustangs' head coach Duncan DellaVolpe said of having lofty goals. "But we have a veteran crew coming back here and there is no reason not to have high expectations."

Over DellaVolpe's three years, the team has developed a more structured weight lifting program, has focused on camps and offseason training in an effort to put a better club on the field in the fall. The squad has bought into these changes and DellaVolpe expects that to show in 2011.

"The kids have worked hard and there's a plan in place," DellaVolpe said. "We've slowly progressed into becoming a program."

The Mustangs' first three games will serve as a barometer of whether they're contenders or pretenders this year. Warde takes on highly-touted Brien McMahon, then will face the always loaded New Canaan before closing its opening trio of contests against defending FCIAC champion Darien.

"We'll know where we're going to stand after the first three games," DellaVolpe said. "We're trying to plan to get off to a good start."

Should Warde survive those three games, dates at Ridgefield on Oct. 14 and Staples on Nov. 5 will serve as potential showdowns.

DellaVolpe is aware that the

Mustangs' opponents still could overlook them and that is just what he'd like.

"Some teams are still going to come out and take us lightly," he said. "We kind of like that."

One of the Mustangs' most celebrated returnees will be their

quarterback, Chris Foley. The rising senior started the final six games of 2010 for Warde and has earned a slew of accolades and the Mustangs have high hopes for him.

"He's performed this offseason," DellaVolpe said of Foley.

If Foley is injured, or doesn't perform, Max Garrett is hot on his heels as the backup.

Replacing some of Warde's skill position players-- such as four-year starter and tail back Alex Delaney-- could be problematic for the Mustangs, although DellaVolpe will try to trade his star back with a host of athletes.

"We're going to replace (Delaney) by committee," he said. "We have a lot more options this year."

One of those options will be Devon Lofton, who creates a matchup problem for just about anyone trying to cover him. He runs a 4.6 40-yard dash and can return

kicks as well.

Other receivers are Dario Pugliano, Kevin Sullivan and tight end Ryan Kerrigan.

But speed will not be it for Warde from the skill spots, Joey Marx and David Wolff will each serve as hard-nosed runners. They'll try to run behind the tackle and guard combo of Mike Money and Jordan Irizarry, who are two of the four returning starters on the offensive line.

"Our strength is up front," DellaVolpe said.

Wolff and Marx will also make up a strong group of linebackers who also are experienced. DellaVolpe is hoping his team's strength in the front seven protects its inexperienced secondary.

What DellaVolpe ultimately wants to do is create the ultimate home-field advantage at Tetreau/Davis Field this season, see if the team can catch a few breaks and let the chips fall where they may.

"We were a few plays from being a seven-win team last year," DellaVolpe said. "Our first goal is to win our home games and pull two or three out on the road."