Big South notebook: New kids on the block
The Big South Conference will welcome a pair of new teams into the fold over the next two seasons. Monmouth and Kennesaw State University keep the league at the required seven teams for an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs, after the departure of Stony Brook and VMI.
Monmouth Hawks (6-6, FCS Independent)
Monmouth will begin conference play this season and head coach Kevin Callahan is excited about joining the Big South.
"This is a big step forward for our program," he said. "The Big South gives us the opportunity to become a fully funded program with 63 scholarships. In the NEC, the maximum number you could have was 40, so this gives us chance to grow."
Even with the lack of scholarships Monmouth boasts a rich football tradition. Founded in 1993, the Hawks' program has posted a 120-97 record and they have been crowned NEC conference champions five times, most recently 2006. Notable Monmouth alumni include Cleveland Brown wide receiver Miles Austin, who still holds several school records.
Callahan knows that tradition alone won't be enough to compete in the Big South.
"It's going to be a challenge, mostly with our depth," he said. "The other teams are well coached and very talented. We saw that first hand last year against Liberty (a 45-14 loss). The established teams already have those 63 scholarships, so they can build quality depth. We don't have that yet. We know we are going to have to match that type of talent if we want to be a contender in this league."
Gardner-Webb head coach Carroll McCray says the Hawks are somewhat of a mystery. "I don't know a lot about them, but anytime a coach has been there for 22 years, he must be doing something right. I also know we play them on November 22nd in New Jersey. It's going to be cold."
Monmouth opens their season Aug. 30 versus Delaware State.
Kennesaw State Owls (1st season 2015)
While Monmouth has fielded a program since 1993, Kennesaw State is building a brand new one. Even though their first game is not until Sept. 3, 2015, head coach Brian Bohannon has all the pieces in place to build that program quickly.
"Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football," he said. "We are about 20 minutes outside of metro Atlanta and the talent in that area is unbelievable. Our goal is to keep those second tier kids that don't go to Georgia or Georgia Tech close to home, where they can play for their family and friends."
Bohannon has another advantage on the recruiting trail.
"I get to tell a young man, 'You get the chance to build something from the ground up. You get to build a foundation. You get to be a part of the first game and the first team. That's something you can look at 30 years from now and know that you had a part in it.' Not many coaches can say that. So far 29 young men have signed with us and it's a very good group."
In addition to his unique recruiting pitch, Bohannon offers his team a chance to play in an unusual offensive system.
"We are going to run the option out of the spread," he said. "You don't see that often. I know Charleston Southern does a little of that, but we just want to give teams something different to look at. We may not get the biggest players (in the system). We want players who are fast and tough."
Will the recruiting pipeline and an unusual system be enough to fill a stadium with the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets playing just down the road?
"Definitely, because we have already sold 90 percent of our season tickets," Bohannon said. "I'm a Georgia boy through and through. I played for the University of Georgia and I went to Georgia Tech for grad school. I know how passionate people are about football. I know folks aren't only going to be Kennesaw State fans. I know they are going to root for the Bulldogs or the Yellow Jackets on Saturday, too. I'm ok with that as long as they wear black and gold during our games. I think fans are excited to see college football in their backyard."
The Owls begin play Sept. 3, 2015 at East Tennessee State.