In only its third season of existence, the Kennesaw State football team achieved a previously unimaginable level of success.
It is difficult to articulate the shocking nature of a fledgling team managing to win a dozen games and make it to the quarterfinals of the Football Conference Subdivision playoffs, but it is important to explain the context.
On Feb.13, 2013, the university put forth a plan to the State Board of Regents regarding the founding of a football team. The very next day, the plan was approved, and fall 2015 would be the starting date for football in Kennesaw.
From the day he was hired on March 24, 2013, head coach Brian Bohannon has been both the tactical and spiritual leader of the football team. Using a shrewd method of searching for hidden talents in Georgia and elsewhere, he was able to lay the physical foundation for a competitive team.
Equally important to the physical aspects of football are the mental aspects, and to convince high school athletes to come to an obscure, but up-coming, university would be the true challenge.
Somehow, he managed to recruit student-athletes that not only wanted to play football but wanted to play for him and believed in his approach. His approach was an aggressive, yet unselfish, team-oriented mindset that paired well with the youth of college students. That brotherly mindset, along with a game plan that focused on the rushing game, solidified an identity that has defined the nature of the team.
As the inaugural season began, the leaders on the team were quickly visible. Led by Trey White, Chaston Bennett, Taylor Henkle and Derrick Farrow, the Owls won five of their first six games and finished 6-5. The continued success of the team for the future could only be made possible by the leadership established in the first season, and the continued presence of those leaders.
The 2016 season began with a sold-out crowd and the first home night game in team history. In a tense game that was a rematch of the previous season’s opening affair, the Owls lost in overtime, and the first true test of the team’s resolve was in order.
To make matters worse, team leader Trey White suffered an injury that would hamper the rest of his season. In spite of these circumstances, the Owls rose above it all and began to play with an increased tenacity, all while suddenly being led by Bohannon’s very first signing — Chandler Burks.
Chandler Burks became the focal point of the Owls offense and quickly became a vocal leader. Scrappy and efficient, Burks fit perfectly into the offensive schemes and showed no fear of the spotlight when being called upon. Having been the first signing of the first recruiting class, Burks diligently learned from White and was ready to become the leader.
With the many running options at their disposal, the Owls began to blow away the opposition. The defense was showing improvements each week in stopping both the run and pass, aided with a number of interceptions by Dante Blackmon. Confidence ran high in the team, even after a tough loss to Liberty. A postseason prospect was in the cards.
Heading into the final game at Charleston Southern, the Owls had a legitimate shot at the playoffs, but a heartbreaking loss prevented that from happening. Where other teams might have become demoralized, the Owls set out to use the experience as a lesson, and that next year would be the breakthrough.
On the opening night of the 2017 season, a most bizarre situation occurred. With the Owls leading Samford 10-7 at halftime, a three-hour delay due to storms prevented either team from staying warmed up, and instead of canceling the game, the game continued past midnight. In typical Owls fashion, the harsh circumstances were not used as an excuse for the loss. They picked their heads back up and carried on.
What then ensued was miraculous.
A twelve-game winning streak put fear into opponents and put the entire FCS on notice. No longer could the concept of Kennesaw football be used as a punchline. With good faith from the growing fan base and the spirit of Plank, the Owls were a force to be reckoned with.
The regular season was topped off by an emotional blowout win over Charleston Southern, the very team that had knocked the Owls out of playoff contention in 2016, and a victory over Monmouth that sealed the Owls as Big South Conference champions.
If revenge was sweet against Charleston, then the mood was a sugar rush against Samford in the first round of the playoffs. The two teams that had faced off to begin the season would play to end it for the other.
The Owls triumphed over Samford through an excellent defensive performance and shocked many again when they made a visit to Jacksonville, Alabama, and defeated the heavily favored Gamecocks. Although the dream season ended with a 34-27 loss at Sam Houston State, it will be a season to remember for years to come.