The Kennesaw State Owls are making quite a splash in their inaugural football season. Playing with only 43 scholarship players and almost no upperclassmen, the suburban Atlanta school has fashioned a 6-2 record, including 2-1 in the Big South Conference. If they win their final three games, they will win the Big South and qualify for the FCS playoffs.
While making the playoffs in their first year probably wasn’t a goal at the start of the campaign, you would think that clinching a winning record might have been. You would be wrong. According to head coach Brian Bohannon, there were no team goals going in. Instead, he preached this simple mantra: “We wanted to make sure we were getting better every week.”
Bohannon, who spent 17 years as an assistant under Paul Johnson at Georgia Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech, became Kennesaw State’s first football coach in March 2013. One of the first players to sign on with the fledgling program has also turned out to be one of the best.
Safety Taylor Henkle was named STATS FCS Freshman of the Week after a standout performance in a 23-13 win over Monmouth on Saturday. Henkle had nine solo tackles, two pass breakups and an interception in the win. "The game’s starting to slow down as the season goes on and I think I’m starting to see the plays before they happen,” he said
“He’s a great competitor and in moments in the game when it’s big he shows up," Bohannon added. "And that’s because he does what he is supposed to do when he’s supposed to. You don’t have to be super-human in this game. Just go do your job with championship effort and good things happen. And he does that better than anyone I’ve been around.”
Unlike his coach, who wants his team to focus on the day-in, day-out of getting better instead of looking at long-range goals, Henkle thinks how well the Owls perform in their final three games — against Charleston Southern and Coastal Carolina, both ranked in the top 15 of the FCS polls, and Presbyterian — will set up the program for years.
They are a step up in competition for Kennesaw State. Two of the Owls’ six wins have come over NAIA schools and a third over a Division II opponent. But that schedule was created by design. Knowing that his freshman-dominated team would be playing six conference games against juniors and seniors, Bohannon wanted to make sure his team played as many games as possible against teams in similar stages of development.
“We’ve been working over a year and a half here without playing a game and we’ve created a very hard-nosed culture,” he said. “And to go out and get beat in your first four or five games, all that kind of goes to the wayside.”
Bohannon's five-year plan has the Owls facing a full-fledged FCS schedule in two years. By then, the Owls will have a full complement of four recruiting classes on campus.
As for Saturday's game against Charleston Southern, Henkle thinks the Owls’ defense will have at least one advantage against the Buccaneers’ option attack. Without any games to play last fall, they spent plenty of time practicing against their own form of the option.
Above: Taylor Henkle was named STATS FCS Freshman of the Week, another milestone in Kennesaw State's inaugural season. (Kyle Hess/Kennesaw State Athletics)