February 24, 2014

Under construction

Kennesaw State in a hurry for football success

Chris Whitfield

— If Kennesaw State University football coach Brian Bohannon wants to see a blueprint on how to build a competitive football program in a short amount of time, all he has to do is look back on the tradition at one of his past coaching stops.

Bohannon has been tasked with starting the football program at the northwest Metro school in Cobb County. His time as an assistant for now Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson while Johnson was at Georgia Southern should provide much of the history lesson on how to build at Kennesaw State. Georgia Southern revived its football program in the early 1980s and within four years of beginning play, Erk Russell’s team won a Division I-AA national championship.

And while it is doubtful there is a “Beautiful Owl Creek” running along Frey Road in Cobb County, that isn’t going to stop Bohannon and his team from chasing success just as quickly as the Eagles did.

“Before this signing class leaves, we need to compete for a championship,” Bohannon said Monday during an address to the Kiwanis Club of Dalton at the trade center.

Bohannon, a former player at the University of Georgia, has coached with Johnson at GSU, Navy and Tech. Before that, he coached at West Georgia and Gardner-Webb.

The Owls signed their inaugural class on Feb. 5, inking 29 signees to work toward the school’s first season in 2015 which will begin on Sept. 3 at East Tennessee State University. The highlight of the class was Griffin High School quarterback Jaquez Parks, the 2013 Georgia Sports Writers Association’s All-Classification Player of the Year.

The first class features 26 players from the state of Georgia with 14 earning All-State accolades.

The Owls will play in the Football Championship Series (formerly Division I-AA) and will compete in the Big South Conference.

Bohannon plans on adding transfers and preferred walk-ons in the fall semester and will also hold tryouts for students currently enrolled at the school. His goal is to have around 80 players to practice in the fall and will add another class next February.

And while their athletic abilities are a big part of the reason this first group was signed, Bohannon said he needed more than just athletes for the school’s football foundation.

“When we first thought about the kind of players we wanted to bring in for our first class, we had three core values that would serve as the foundation,” Bohannon said. “Ability, academics and character are the three core values we want to build around. We are making history with each new thing we do, and those values will build everything from here forward.”

While the football program at Kennesaw State is new, the facilities are already in place with an 8,300-seat stadium and a football fieldhouse. The school has also worked very hard over the last decade to move away from being primarily a commuter school into a more residential school. New student housing and campus construction and upgrades have pushed the enrollment to more than 26,000. Community support is there with 2,500 season tickets sold with more than 550 days until kickoff.

Bohannon said getting recruits onto the campus for that first visit is the big challenge.

“I lived eight miles from the school, and I knew nothing about it before I was hired as the coach,” Bohannon said. “You travel around and talk to players and coaches and they don’t know anything more than I did. But once they get here, the school is unbelievable with state-of-the-art housing, a great campus and academics that hit just about every major you could imagine. Once you get the kids on campus, the school really sells itself.”