(Editor's note: The following story is reprinted by permission from the Daily Telegram Sports Staff.)
ADRIAN, Mich.--It's been 15 years since the Adrian College football program entered a new season off of the heels of a losing one.
Despite the 4-6 finish in 2016, the Bulldogs enter 2017 with the same expectations as always.
"The expectation is to win the (Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association)," said sophomore quarterback Hunter Hamm. "That's always the expectation — to win the ring and go onto the playoffs and do the best we can there."
The 4-6 season was the first losing season under head coach Jim Deere since he took over the program in 2010, but he learned a lot from last season and believes Adrian will benefit from 2016.
"Let's call it what it is," Deere said. "It's not very good. I think I even learned a lot from last season. I think you usually learn a lot more by losing than you do by winning and that's hopefully going to pay off this year."
The Bulldogs were bit by the injury bug last season, harder than any season Deere has seen during his coaching tenure.
But he believes the team will only benefit from having players get experience a season earlier than expected.
"You've got a lot of kids get a lot of experience that otherwise probably wouldn't," Deere said. "A kid like Hunter Hamm playing (eight) games as a freshman. He probably would've never seen the field if our quarterback didn't go down in Week 3."
Hamm's 1,179 yards passing was sixth in the MIAA last season and 147.7 yards per game was fifth.
He's statistically one of the best returning quarterbacks in the league, but his job isn't set in stone.
Clayton Uecker spent the spring at Akron, but transferred to Adrian, where his father Keith Uecker is the associate head coach, in the summer and is putting some pressure on Hamm.
"We have a quarterback battle we never knew we'd have in the spring," Deere said. "We get a transfer in, and it becomes a quarterback battle, and that's good for Hunter Hamm to have some competition. It keeps him sharp. It's a little back and forth, and that's a good thing."
Whoever is under center will have a handful of weapons at his disposal, including junior running back Emmanuel Stewart, who sat out a season with academic issues and took a semester off, before returning to school and getting his grades right.
Randy Fry is also back after catching one 26-yard touchdown pass a season ago, before hurting his knee.
"What not a lot of people don't understand is when I lost him Week 1, I didn't just lose my wide receiver and vertical threat," Deere said. "But I lost my long snapper. That's what I want. I like that mix."
"I got a kid who can kick it 60 yards, and I got the guy who set the record in the 60 snapping and running down there," Deere said.
On the defensive side, Deere has one of the best pass rushers in school history.
Senior defensive end Damon Fuller is coming off of a stellar season with 11 ½ sacks, giving him 32 for his career and eight shy of the school record held by Michael Lewis, who set the record of 40 from 2002 to 2005.
"I want to get the sack record," Fuller said. "I really want that sack record."
The Bulldogs' defense was fifth in the MIAA last year in points per game (29.3) and fourth in both passing and rushing yards per game (234.1 and 157.3). They'll look to improve on that this season.
"We have a very experienced group on the defensive side," Fuller said. "A lot of our guys are seniors and juniors and have been through this defense for a couple of years. Having a very experienced group really helps us out out there."
For Fuller, the team expectations are high, and he has the same the same standard for himself, the defense, the offense and the special teams.
That's to be the best.
"I want the offense and defense and special teams to be No. 1 in the nation for all of the stats," Fuller said. "That's my expectation."