2016 Record: 9-2 overall, 8-1 Middle Atlantic Conference; NCAA Tournament first round.
Key Returners: WR Preston Addo, RB Jainard Crawley-Lambert, LB Ashton Leschke, QB Dan Williams.
Key Games: Aug. 31 at Frostburg State; Sept. 23 at Delaware Valley.
Outlook: Stevenson continued its rapid climb last fall with its first NCAA Division III playoff berth.
The Mustangs posted nine wins, earned a national ranking and claimed the Middle Atlantic Conference title before finishing with a 38-17 loss at Wesley (Del.) in their national tournament debut.
That's quite the checklist for a program in its sixth year of varsity competition. Yet Hottle spent the offseason focused on the reasons his squad fell short of even more history.
"The objective isn't to hear your name called on Selection Sunday," Hottle said. "The objective is to hear your name called and go win some football games."
Stevenson rolls into the 2017 season hoping last year's success -- and quick playoff exit -- helps an experienced group chase even bigger goals.
The Mustangs have pretty much everybody back from an offense that averaged nearly 35 points per game, led by Williams.
The senior quarterback threw for 2,469 yards in 2016 with 26 touchdowns against nine interceptions en route to MAC Offensive Player of the Year honors.
He's got his three favorite targets back, including Addo, who turned 12 of his 47 catches into touchdowns last season. Crawley-Lambert returns to lead the backfield after missing the stretch run with a wrist injury.
All that familiarity certainly stands to make Hottle's job easier heading toward the Aug. 31 opener at Frostburg State.
"Things can move much, much quicker," Hottle said. "Install [of plays] happens quicker. Repetitions happen quicker."
The defense has holes to fill, especially in the secondary.
There's no quick fix to replace decorated cornerback Austin Tennessee, who signed with the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent. The unit also graduated all-conference defensive backs Billy Lewis and Jimmy Lauer.
The good news is Hottle favors a deep defensive rotation. Most of the guys in the mix to fill the void -- notably defensive backs Zach May and Daniel Flowe -- have logged plenty of snaps.
"We built for this," Hottle said. "We knew this day would come."
The linebacking corps is a strength, boosted by the return of top tackler Leschke. Cory Pietrzyk is back for a fifth year after missing most of last season with a broken ankle.
Hottle believes he's got the pieces to make another leap forward, which explains why he focused so intently in recent months on last fall's missteps.
There was a late-season loss to Wilkes that almost cost the Mustangs the conference title. In the NCAA defeat, they led well into the second quarter before fading.
Those memories have been useful for everybody.
"We set goals at the beginning of each season, and we fell short of some of those goals," Hottle said. "We expect more, and we've worked hard to achieve more."
Issue 236: August 2017