Head Coach: Ed Hottle (sixth season)
2015 Record: 7-2 (Middle Atlantic Conference); 9-2 (overall)
Key Returners: DB Austin Tennessee, LB Cory Pietrzyk, DB Billy Lewis, RB Kiandre Burrell
Key Games: Sept. 10 at Albright; Oct. 22 vs. Delaware Valley
After posting bowl victories during each of their last two seasons, the Stevenson Mustangs are preparing for greater accomplishments.
Stevenson, which began playing football during the 2011 season, heads into its sixth campaign with a clear mission: to win its first Middle Atlantic Conference championship and make its initial appearance in the NCAA Division III playoffs. Following wins in the 2014 ECAC Southeast Bowl and the inaugural MAC-Centennial Bowl Series last fall, a formidable defensive unit and several offensive playmakers could help the Mustangs accomplish their goals.
"We want more," head coach Ed Hottle said. "The last two seasons have given us some confidence. Albright was a second-round (NCAA) team, and we lost to them by four points. That's how close we are. Our team is hungry coming into the year."
The Mustang defense will go a long way toward determining the team's destiny. Stevenson returns several standouts from a unit that led all Division III programs in turnovers, turnover margin and interceptions. The Mustangs ranked 21st nationally in scoring defense, surrendering 15.7 points per game.
The secondary will be Stevenson's strongest area. A senior trio of defensive backs, including Austin Tennessee, Jimmy Lauer and Billy Lewis, combined for 17 of the Mustangs' 29 interceptions, a mark which led all NCAA Division III schools.
"It's the best secondary that I've had in my coaching career," Hottle said. "For me, the best thing about it is the quality of individuals that we have. They're smart, have a conscientious nature and are all fierce competitors."
The senior duo of inside linebacker Cory Pietrzyk (82 tackles, eight sacks) and tackle Austin Meyers (49 tackles, five sacks) will help contain opponents at the line of scrimmage.
Offensively, the Mustangs must find a quarterback. Jeff Farrah and Brad Harmon, who spilt time last year, will not return. Junior Daniel Williams, who completed five of 10 passes for 32 yards last season, is the only experienced Stevenson quarterback.
But the new Mustangs' signal-caller will be surrounded by proven veterans. Sophomore running back Kiandre Burrell gained 814 yards and scored seven rushing touchdowns during his first collegiate season. A trio of productive wide receivers will return, including seniors Cortez Taylor (team-leading 44 catches) and Seth Jordan and junior Devin Salisbury.
"It's going to come down to how fast can we execute from the quarterback spot and what the offensive line looks like," said Hottle, who has guided the Mustangs to a 17-5 record during the past two seasons.
Stevenson's top rivals for the conference title should be defending champion Albright and perennial power Delaware Valley. The Mustangs will travel to Albright Sept. 10, with the winner taking early control of the league race. An Oct. 22 meeting with Delaware Valley also looms large for the Mustangs, who finished third in the 2015 league standings.
Issue 224: August 2016