Perhaps lost among the fully loaded Thursday night slate is a milestone contest in the FCS. East Tennessee State, which shut off the lights on its football program in 2003, returns to the gridiron. The Buccaneers’ first game in 12 years is against visiting Kennesaw State, which is playing its first game…well, ever.
“It’s amazing — the last two and a half years for me — how fast this has gone by,” Kennesaw State head coach Brian Bohannon said in his press conference last week. “I remember on our TV screens in our weight room and offices, it said 400 days before we play. I walked out my office and it said six today [on Aug. 28].”
For most football teams, the coaches try to downplay a specific opponent ahead of Week 1. That first opponent often isn’t even mentioned by name in training camp, and certainly not during spring ball.
And, even if they were to be, it’s about a four or five-month wait from the end of spring workouts until Week 1. For Kennesaw State, the road to this game dates back to March 2013.
That’s when Bohannon was named the program’s first head coach.
Carl Torbush was named ETSU’s man-in-charge three months after Bohannon at Kennesaw State.
Building to Week 1 hasn’t been a long process just for the coaches. ETSU quarterback Austin Herink told Joe Avento of the Johnson City Press:
“Most of us haven’t played since our senior year in high school, which is two years ago. I’m sure there’s going to be a little nervous energy, but that’s what football’s all about. If you don’t have butterflies, you might need to get out.”
It’s fascinating to think the process that went into recruiting the players who will line up for both ETSU and Kennesaw State tonight. When the sales pitch is strictly concept — no history, no tradition and no track record on which to rely — it must take a certain kind of prospect to buy in.
To this end, Kennesaw State’s selection of Bohannon was a home run.
The former Georgia Tech assistant’s local ties and familiarity with the region’s deep high school football scene allowed Bohannon to build the program from the ground up.
NCAA.com produced an excellent mini-documentary detailing Bohannon’s Georgia roots, and how that has played into laying a foundation there.
Though a season-opening that’s effectively a launch party for two different programs is a rarity, more and more Week 1 tilts are featuring first-timers.
That’s because the last half-decade has been a boom period for university athletic departments either launching or relaunching football. East Tennessee State and Kennesaw State join 10 other universities since 2008 to join the Div. I football ranks.
• Campbell: FCS, member of the Pioneer Football League.
• Old Dominion: FBS, member of Conference USA; reached the FCS Playoffs in 2012 as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association.
• South Alabama: FBS, launched with an original intent of becoming a full member of the Sun Belt; played in the inaugural Camellia Bowl last December.
• Georgia State: FBS, member of the Sun Belt; briefly competed in the FCS CAA before moving up. The Panthers are seeking the first winning season in program history.
• Lamar: FCS, member of the Southland Conference; finished 8-4 in 2014.
• UTSA: Moved up to FBS after one season as an FCS independent and competed in the Western Athletic Conference before its demise; now a member of C-USA.
• Charlotte: Spent its first two years as an FCS independent and joins C-USA as a transitional member this season.
• Houston Baptist: FCS, member of the Southland Conference
• Mercer: FCS, member of the Southern Conference
• Stetson: FCS, member of the Pioneer Football League
Inspired by the success other universities have had with newly formed football programs, such schools as University of New Orleans are looking into starting their own.
Each program starts with its own roadmap, which I . While different university athletic departments have their own ideas for building a football program, all have the same, ultimate goal of becoming economically self-sufficient; popular among students, boosters and the local fan base; and most importantly, successful.
Kennesaw State football is thriving before the Owls ever play a game, nearing a sellout of season tickets.
Similarly, ETSU is anticipating a capacity crowd at Kermit Tipton Stadium.
There seems to be genuine excitement surrounding these new programs. It’s great to have them in this great, big party we call college football.