Undefeated Mustangs vie for first D-III playoff spot
Saturday’s homecoming is perhaps the biggest game in team’s short history
Six years ago this month, homecoming was approaching at Stevenson, so the Mustangs football team prepared for a game it could not lose.
The athletic department billed the Saturday afternoon showdown at its Greenspring campus as the Green-White Game. Stevenson coach Ed Hottle remembers it being a practice. The truth is somewhere in between: It was an intrasquad scrimmage, the outcome unimportant. The Mustangs, in their first year of existence, had a team but no opponents. They had a game for homecoming but no homecoming game. Only the date on the green armbands they wore hinted at their intentions: Sept. 3, 2011, their first com- petitive game in Division III.
“The first year with no football, to be honest, I don’t remember much of anything,” said former Mustangs linebacker Tim Campbell Jr. (McDonogh), a member of the program’s inaugural 2010 recruiting class. “A lot of people didn’t even know football really existed at that point.”
Ahead of No. 15 Stevenson’s homecoming game Saturday against No. 25 Delaware Valley (5-1), maybe the biggest game in Mustangs history, there is no such identity crisis. That does not make it any easier to reconcile with what has happened in six short years.
At a former women’s college known until 2008 as Villa Julie, where the best way to expand the size of the student body and shrink the gender gap was to add a 100-member men’s varsity team, football Ed Hottle
has become the university’s homecoming tent pole. Tickets for Saturday’s game sold out three weeks ago. Stevenson’s 3,200 undergraduates claimed their allotted 1,000 seats at Mustang Stadium in two days. About 100 to 150 students are expected at the on-campus watch party. The women’s volleyball team is excited not to be on the road this weekend, understandably so.
“There’s nothing bad about a 6-0 football team,” athletic director Brett Adams said Tuesday. “There’s nothing bad about homecoming. There’s nothing bad about developing history and tradition.”
The university’s transformation since school president Kevin Manning was inaugurated in 2000 has made for peculiar excitement over otherwise taken-forgranted benchmarks. In 2004, the school’s first residence halls opened. Seven years later, there were Mustangs football games. In both instances, Adams remembers hearing around campus, “Oh, my gosh, we’re going to be a real college now.”
The interest was genuine: Homecoming football games have sold out at the 3,500-seat Mustang Stadium since the program’s first year. But for the first three years under Hottle, there was little but the team’s novelty to savor. Stevenson lost each homecoming game, never finishing any season above 4-6 overall.
Billy Lewis, a redshirt senior defensive back, arrived in 2012 after a standout career at powerhouse Queen Anne’s County, where the town of Centreville “shut down,” he said, every fall Friday of football season. His losing seasons with the Mustangs were unfamiliar, as was the community’s apparent apathy.
“It was weird at first because it wasn’t the obsession that we did get in high school right off the bat,” Lewis said.
In the 2014 homecoming game, Stevenson turned a corner. A57-0 rout of Fairleigh Dickinson-Florham set a school record for points, margin of victory and wins in a single season. The Mustangs went 8-3 that year, then 9-2 last season, and the people who once didn’t know Stevenson football existed — or just pretended it hadn’t — were now invested in its success.
Campbell, a 2014 graduate, recalled standing in line at a local Chipotle with a manandhistwosons. Nonewereassociated with the university; all told Campbell they were excited to see him and the team play. Lewis said school administrators will, in passing, recite some players’ stats, not just acknowledge that they played last weekend. For the first three years under coach Ed Hottle, Stevenson lost each homecoming game. Now, the Mustangs are 6-0.
Outside the Baltimore area, most recruits no longer ask, “Who?” when Hottle introduces himself as the head coach of a program called Stevenson. Most, but not all.
“You’re never where you want to be if you’re any good at your job,” he explained.
So, no, six wins are not enough. A victory Saturday could propel Stevenson to its first Division III playoff appearance, an unprecedented feat for a program whose oldest alumni are in their mid-20s and, Hottle joked, have not yet felt the squeeze of donation solicitations.
Campbell expects to be among about 60 former players at the game. Hottle said homecoming is for fans like them; his Mustangs can worry only about the Aggies. Besides, they’ve already taken care of the hard part: securing admission to the game.