By Dustin Corn
On August 31st, 2017, our Kennesaw State Owls travel to Siebert Stadium in Homewood, Alabama to take on the Samford Bulldogs. I expect to see a different feel for this years team. In year one, we had no idea what to expect. In year two we had a better idea, the team was still in its infant stages. In year three we know we are, and the goal is much more clear. Playoffs. You’ll hear the EAT mantra, the “Go 1-0” every week, etc., but this team wants championships, and to get to that point we need to clear the next hurdle.
Preseason awards and expectations mean nothing. They mean even less when you consider Coastal and Liberty have already departed for the FBS in our short stint with the Big South Conference. However in 2015 we were the new kids on the block projected to finish last in conference. In 2017 we are projected for a share of the Big South crown. How’s that for a change in expectations?
With every new season there are new obstacles to overcome. This is without a doubt the toughest schedule we’ve played in our short history. Let’s get to know the 2017 Kennesaw State Owls.
The most important position in any offense regardless of scheme. Chandler took over as the starting QB once Trey White went down with an injury in week one. He never looked back throwing for over 1,200 yards and another 800 on the ground. Chandler possesses a high football IQ and with last year’s experience under his belt I would expect him to continue to improve.
Daniel David received a lot of playing time last year backing up Chandler. While more of a physical threat than Chandler, he also possesses an excellent arm. Daniel spent his first season at Appalachian State and was relatively inexperienced in the triple option attack when he arrived. I expect his game to continue to improve as he gets more comfortable giving the Owls two solid options to lead the offense in 2017.
Last year Trey White was our “goaline” qb because of his heavy head, even after he lost the starting job. Do we look to replace that element, or does the starter stay in for these reps in 2017?
I would expect former QB Jake McKenzie to start as the season opens. He should now have a good degree of confidence after spending the last season as the full time B-Back and rushing for 429 yards. Sam Outlaw received some playing time spelling Jake once Micah Reed went down with an injury. Sam looked good in limited action and will be poised for a bigger role this year.
New to the B-Back room will be Bronson Rechsteiner who is moving over from linebacker. Bronson possesses excellent size for the position, breakaway straight line speed, and the toughness needed for the position. If he adjusts quickly he could be the wildcard to lead this group, and help solve the woes we’ve experienced in short yardage situations.
In addition the Owls also have highly touted redshirt freshman Brandon Simmons and True Freshman Jaxton Carson in this group. Without a doubt the deepest this position has been in the Owls young history.
Gone is Chaston Bennett, perhaps the most explosive player Kennesaw has had to this point. Chaston led all backs with 695 yards rushing, but also added 300+ yards in the receiving and return game. Our other starter at A-Back, Darnell Holland, returns to looks to take advantage of more opportunities with Chaston gone. While the Owls have no shortage of options, they will need someone else to step up and take on an expanded role this season. Top candidates are newly acquired Shawn Furlow (junior), Myles White (senior), TJ Reed (sophomore), and Shaq Terry (freshman). The Owls have also added an impressive group of true freshman that I would anticipate seeing redshirt this year.
Justin Sumpter returns as the Owls number one receiver. A role he’s embraced since he stepped on campus. While he had an impressive 2016 with almost 600 yards receiving and 8 TD’s he’s nowhere near satisfied. He possesses a mature outlook on his performance and is one that is never satisfied. Consistently you hear “Sumpt” talking about what he has to do better, and not what he’s done. This makes him one of the more exciting, and mature, young men on our team. I’m very excited to see what he brings in 2017.
I would expect Dorian Miles, Xavier Harper, and Ezra “Donny” Naylor to provide depth. Harper, while not the prototypical size of a triple option receiver, has demonstrated a handful of explosive plays throughout his career. Maybe this is the year he takes the next step?
The good news is the Owls return 4 of 5 starting offensive lineman from last years team. The bad? They lose Malik Letatau who has anchored the center position for our first two seasons. In the Spring Game, as well as early on in fall camp, we’ve had trouble finding a suitable replacement here. Multiple players have been given a shot at this job including CJ Collins, Matt Frank (starting RG), Lorenzo Adger (started a few games in 2015), and Luther Jones (who came over from the Dline). Make no mistake: this is the most important camp battle, and who comes out the winner must perform at a high level for our offense to remain potent.
Gone from his playing days is Nick Perrotta, but the rest of the defensive line is returning and looking to take the next step as a group. Auzoyah Alufohai (Big Z), Braylon Young, McKenzie Billingslea, etc. all return inside. While returning starters Desmond Johnson and Tonarius Portress also return at their respective positions of Rush and Defensive end. In addition to this group the Owls have added former Mill Creek/Georgia State rush end Peyton Moore who should provide immediate depth. Allen Johnson and Abdul Davis are both coming off redshirt years, but have the big bodies the Owls need to play early.
At linebacker Izzy Sam and Anthony Gore will each return as three year starters at Mike and Will respectively. I expect them to continue to improve and really come into their own cementing the linebackers as the strongest defensive unit on the defense. SAM will have a new starter to open the season for the first time in Kennesaw’s short history as Dez Billingslea has transferred to West Georgia. This will be a battle between former UGA/Oregon player Paris Bostick and Bryson Armstrong. Regardless of who starts both players will play a lot and be an excellent addition to this defense.
No position was hit harder by graduation than the Owls secondary. Gone are arguably the Owl’s top corner and safety duo of Dante Blackmon and Derrick Farrow. These two combined for approximately 7 INT’s and 60+ tackles that the Owls will need to replace.
Back to anchor the secondary will be three year starter Taylor Henkle. His supporting cast is to be determined at this point. Along side Taylor at the safety spot will likely be redshirt freshman Adesola Abisoye. Adesola is from Grayson HS and spent time at both corner and safety while there. He is a playmaker in the back half that will make his presence felt early. Other contenders to start at safety will be sophomore Dustin Clabough and redshirt junior Jace White.
The corner spot welcomes Georgia Tech transfer and local Cobb County product Dorian Walker. He will be competing with Akebren Ralls, Durante Carter, and Keon Roman to find out who our starting corners will be. Ralls, Carter, and Roman all have played significant minutes for the Owls, but have yet to show the consistency needed to be a “lock” as a starter.
While the punting game seemed to make strides in the right direction, the Owls still need more from the kicking game. Christian Kinsley and Justin Thompson are the preseason favorites to repeat as starters here.
Corn’s Keys to 2017:
-Who starts at center? Spring and fall have had their share of mishaps which kills plays before they begin. With an offense predicated
on “staying ahead of the chains” these misfortunes can be drive killers, instead of play killers. If the offense can find a successful
option at center this should be the most talented offense we’ve ever fielded.
-Special Teams improvement. All around. We need to be better at kicking, punting, returning, and covering. If we want to beat good
teams week in and week out, we have to be substantially improved in the kicking game.
-Desmond Johnson showed flashes of being an excellent pass rusher, but who else can pressure the QB? This is a difficult schedule
and potent FCS offense averaged over 30ppg against us last year. If we can’t keep consistent pressure on the QB’s I can’t imagine this stat improves much.
-The majority of last years recruiting class redshirted. How many of those players can contribute this year? I expect a few of them to
make immediate impacts on offense, defense, and special teams. A few names to look out for are Shaq Terry, Adesola Abisoye,
Bryson Armstrong, and Chris Byrd.a
There is a lot to be excited about in 2017. We have the most talented team we’ve ever had, but we also have the most difficult schedule we’ve faced. If we can fill some of our gaps adequately we could very well push the rest of the Big South Conference for an automatic playoff bid.