Ed Hottle learned just how far he has taken the Gallaudet football program when an opposing coach called him earlier this month.
This coach's team isn't scheduled to play the Bison until next season, but he is already worried.
"I'm not sure I can keep my [game] date with you for next year," the coach told Hottle. "I don't know if the alumni will allow me to stay around if I lose to a deaf school."
Hottle may want to start looking for another opponent. Gallaudet improved to 7-0 for the first time in school history with last week's 35-21 homecoming victory over SUNY Maritime. Even though the Bison are playing many of the same junior varsity and club programs they faced last season, they have surpassed their victory total from the past three seasons combined.
A victory tomorrow at UNC Greensboro would complete Gallaudet's first undefeated season since it began playing football in 1883.
Despite the rainy weather last week, Gallaudet played in front of more than 2,000 fans -- four times its largest previous crowd this season.
Excitement about the program, however, isn't limited to Saturdays. The Gallaudet community was split on Athletic Director Jim Destefano's decision last June to hire a full-time football coach for the first time in 11 years with the intention of returning the Bison to varsity status as a Division III program in 2007.
Now, Hottle and his players are campus celebrities.
"I've got people coming up to me and shaking my hand that I've never laid eyes on," said Hottle, who is not deaf and had never communicated with a deaf person before being hired four months ago. "It's amazing. It's almost like you're waiting for the balloon to burst."
Senior quarterback Jason Coleman said through an interpreter: "People certainly approach the football team differently than before. When I got home from football games [the past three years], the first thing they said was, 'Did you lose?' Now, their first reaction is, 'Are you serious? You're winning games?' "
And the success is spreading throughout the deaf community nationwide. With each victory, Hottle said, his inbox fills up with more and more high schoolers answering the recruiting questionnaire on Gallaudet's Web site. With about two or three new recruits each day showing interest, Hottle said he already has about 100 prospects to visit beginning next month.
"We're still very guarded," he said, "but this success is really helping recruiting."
A crew from ESPN was on campus last week shooting footage for its series "Timeless," which is scheduled to run early next year. That's fitting, because whichever direction the Bison program goes from here, this season could be earmarked for immortality by the Gallaudet family.
"Hiring Ed Hottle," Destefano said in an e-mail, "was the best thing I ever did. The morale is so high on our campus."