FAIRFIELD >> A little before 3 p.m., Ted Boynton walks across the cement school parking lot at Notre Dame-Fairfield High School.
With a clipboard, folder and packet gripped in one hand, Boynton is ready for Tuesday afternoon’s football practice. He has a game plan.
He makes his way to a gate at the end of the lot that leads to a sorry-looking grass practice field, barely larger than a suburban backyard.
But to him this is home. This is what he’s been waiting for. He just didn’t know it.
Boynton is 52. He’s been coaching since the 1980s. And Notre Dame is his first varsity head coaching position.
“I’ve never really expected myself to be a head coach,” he said. “It’s a good feeling to be in charge, to be at the helm.”
A challenge ahead
“I thought to myself, it’s either going to be now or never to at least take the chance,” Boynton said.
Last March the Notre Dame football program went through yet another coaching change. After going 1-9 in his first season, Dawon Dicks resigned. Since 2006, the Lancers have gone through five head coaches.
Through it all, Boynton has been a constant. He’s been an assistant coach for Notre Dame since 2003. He worked under current Foran coach Jeff Bevino, who went 48-29-1 in his seven seasons highlighted by a Class S runner-up finish in 2002.
Boynton witnessed a lot of winning. But lately there’s been lots of losing. He said he was given the choice to stay or go. He not only stayed, but applied for his first varsity coaching position. Boynton said it was for the exact reasons he’s stuck with the program for 11 years.
“I know the kids, I love the school, love what it stands for,” he said. “I’d like to put my handprint on the program. Do a little of this, little of that and possibly turn it around.”
Dicks’ somewhat abrupt departure this spring was met with some outcry and ensuing turmoil. For the seniors, Boynton is their fourth head coach in four years.
“It’s been quite a journey, a roller-coaster ride,” senior co-captain Austin Camacho said. “It’s difficult learning a new system all the time. It was really tough to see (Dicks) go. He was someone I had been working with.”
But despite the circumstances, the kids came back because they believe in Boynton.
“Originally I didn’t want to come back,” senior co-captain Tyler Owen said. “I was just going to stop after my junior year. But then I found out Ted was going to be the coach. I couldn’t just leave him like that. He’s been very good to me every year I’ve been here.”
Returning to the field is one thing. Returning to the win column is another.
Boynton acknowledges the challenges ahead of him, but boasts a solid support system.
“I believe Teddy is a good fit right now for Notre Dame,” Bevino said. “He has been there through the great seasons and through the bad. He has some tremendous people in administration behind him. If given time and guidance, there is no doubt he will change it around.”
Meant to coach
A life-long Milford resident, Boynton graduated from Law in 1978. He attended American International in Springfield, Mass., earning a B.A. in political science. Boynton filled the time void between graduation and finding a job with coaching.
“George Vitelli, the Milford superintendent then who was my childhood coach, said, ‘Why don’t you come to Law,'” Boynton said.
Boynton started volunteering with the baseball program before moving from the diamond to the gridiron. His positions over the years included six seasons as a Pop Warner coach in Milford, the freshman coach at Law and an assistant coach at Foran.
He’s taught at Law for 20 years, is a paraprofessional and is currently the boys track coach.
But he never applied for a head football gig. His reason was his family, and personally, he enjoyed what he was doing at the time.
“I had younger kids, they played sports, they were involved in school activities,” he said. “I was happy to be to an assistant.”
Now his kids are older. Teddy is 19 and Steven is 15. And at this juncture, the timing is right.
“Ted is a tireless worker and has been patiently waiting to get his turn as a head coach,” Bevino said. “He often talked about taking bits and pieces of all the things he learned from the head coaches he worked for.”
On top of the Week 2 packet of notes for the Lancers’ game against Masuk was a quote from former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young. Boynton pointed and said the words aloud with conviction:
“The principle is competing against yourself. It’s about self-improvement, about being better than you were the day before.”
“That’s our philosophy,” Boynton says. “If we can win every day Monday through Thursday, than we’re going to be the best we can be on Friday.”
Boynton’s approach and tactics are old school. If players miss practice or are late to school, they don’t run; they lose playing time.
Boynton gets Notre Dame’s daily attendance sent to him at Law.
“Three minutes may not be a lot to you, but in the real business world, if you’re consistently three minutes late for your job, you’re going to be fired,” he said.Boynton said when taking over a program that has struggled for years, you have to go in with a concrete plan and understand what needs to take place for change – on the field and off – to start happening.
“It starts No. 1 with discipline,” Boynton said. “Discipline in the classroom, discipline outside the classroom and discipline with being on the field. A well-disciplined player…it’s going to carry out in life.”
The players have responded.
“He knows what he’s talking about,” Owen said. “He’s the type that if you’re doing something wrong, he’ll let you know. He doesn’t want you to do something wrong because you’ll do that in a game. But if you’re doing something right, he’s your biggest supporter.”
Added Camacho: “He’s very involved in the practice, which is very good. He’s really involved in helping out a lot of the kids.”
Consistency is something Notre Dame hasn’t known for almost a decade. It’s something the players crave. It’s what is needed to revive the program.
“If we have a consistent coach who stays with us, one coach that is going to be here for us…I believe that’s him,” senior co-captain Trent Hudson said. “He’s stepping up to the plate.”
The Lancers are a young team. They are loaded with freshmen and sophomores on a roster of barely 30. They have four seniors. And after an injury to Matt Moffat, freshman Nick Granata became the Lancers’ starting quarterback.
Boynton’s beginning has been predictably difficult. The Lancers are 0-2 following a 55-6 loss on Friday to Masuk, ranked No. 9 in the Register Top 10 Poll. The season opener was a 36-13 defeat at the hands of Stratford.
“I stress that they have to be here every day,” Boynton said. “I can’t ask them for any more effort than they’re giving me. These guys are tired of losing as well.”
While low numbers and inexperience are issues that are out of the Lancers’ control, the players focus on the things that can be fixed.
“It’s the little things,” Owen said. “We were inches away on a lot of plays (against Stratford). This is a very talented group. We can be competitive in a lot of games.”
That positive attitude and the players’ perseverance can be, at least in part, credited to Boynton.
“He looks at us like his sons,” Hudson said. “He’s more of a father figure to us.”
Added Owen: “At the end of the day, I always know he’s going to be there for us. He just wants what’s best for us.”