Un­de­feated Mus­tangs vie for first D-III play­off spot

Satur­day’s home­com­ing is per­haps the big­gest game in team’s short his­tory

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Jonas Shaf­fer

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.

SABINA MORAN

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