Stevenson Coach Is Trying To Sell A Dream

He's The Passion Behind Nascent Football Program

December 26, 2009|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,childs.walker@baltsun.com

High schools were closed for a second day after the historic Dec. 19 snowstorm, and Ed Hottle couldn't help but mourn the lost hours he could have spent wooing football players.

"You always feel like you're behind," he said, picking at a plate of fries.

It hardly mattered that Hottle was talking about a Division III football program that didn't exist this time last year and won't play its first intercollegiate game until 2011. He approaches recruiting at Stevenson University - a former women's college in Baltimore County - with the same urgency he would at Texas or Alabama.

Stevenson is counting on this restless, passionate man to be the bedrock of a new program. For now, he is its only member. He'll have to hire the assistants, dream up the team rules, design the practice schedules and, yes, find some players.

That last part is the most important in Hottle's mind. Without teenagers who are excited to be scholar-athletes and build something from scratch, the whole thing won't work.

That's why he called high school coaches on the way home from his introductory news conference in November and why, after a day getting situated in his office, he began visiting five public schools a day. He needed to pitch the Stevenson dream to high school football players around Maryland. By winter break, Hottle had visited more than 50 schools and persuaded 36 players to attend a Jan. 23 open house for the program.

"Not bad for three weeks' work," he said.

And yet he hated losing those precious days to the snow. "I guess if there's any consolation," he said, "it's that the coaches from other schools couldn't get any work done either."

Hottle, 37, has the sturdy physique and restless energy of a college nose guard, which he was at Frostburg State. His coaching career began two days after he played his last game. He loves every aspect of his job - the hours spent designing plays, the emotional counseling sessions with players, the evening sales calls to recruits. There's always something else to do and that's perfect for a guy with his limited attention span.

Stevenson football creeps into Hottle's mind the moment he wakes at 5 a.m., and it fights with his wife and three kids for attention until the moment his head hits the pillow at 11 p.m. A few days before Christmas, he felt certain he'd break away from festivities to call a few recruits with holiday greetings. He would probably have called them all if he could have escaped his wife's wrath.

That kind of boundless enthusiasm leaped out at Stevenson officials, who view football as the latest plank in a drastic makeover.

As part of sweeping reform that included a name change, the opening of a second campus and the introduction of dorms, President Kevin Manning determined six years ago that Stevenson should be a power in Division III athletics. The commitment has paid off most rapidly in lacrosse - the men's program is a national power and drew 2,000 to a home game against Salisbury last season.

But Stevenson is upping the ante further by adding football.

There are practical reasons why many schools eschew the sport. It's expensive (at least $200,000 a year) and can throw athletic programs out of balance with federal gender-equity rules. But Stevenson officials say the costs are worth it because football can breathe life into a campus like nothing else.

"Football is one of those things that's viewed as iconic in higher education," Manning said. "And I think for us, having been Villa Julie, a women's college, it might carry an extra bit of importance."

Manning said far more people have asked him about the football program in the past two months than asked him about Stevenson's name change last year.

With plans (not yet approved) for a 2,000-seat, on-campus stadium, the president envisions swarms of green-and-white-clad students gathering on crisp autumn afternoons to watch their Mustangs take the field to the strains of a full marching band. It's an image of college Americana that would have been inconceivable at Villa Julie a decade ago.

Hottle is used to building something out of nothing.

He came to Stevenson from Gallaudet University, which, under his leadership, just completed its first winning season against an all-varsity schedule since 1930. Hottle had to learn sign language to communicate with his deaf players and then had to weed out a culture of complacent losing over five seasons.

"In some respects, that job was much harder than creating a program from scratch," Hottle said.

When he heard of the Stevenson opening, he thought "great job" and applied the same day (he was chosen over a pool of more than 100).

Hottle was particularly impressed at Paul Cantabene's ability to build the lacrosse team from a ragtag crew of 17 players to a national power in five years. "It was easy to see a hunger to do and add things," he said of Stevenson. "You look at what Paul was able to do with lacrosse, and you say that's something we can do."

Hottle already has his recruiting talk down.

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