ETSU faces Kennesaw State in matchup of new programs

One program is starting over. The other is starting from scratch.

Kennesaw State kicks off its inaugural season Thursday by facing East Tennessee State, which will be playing its first game since reviving a program it had shut down for financial reasons in 2003.

This game comes two years after both schools announced their plans to add football.

''We're awful excited,'' Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon said. ''I know we've used that word a bunch. I've said `excited' probably 300 million times in the last 2 1/2 years, but we genuinely are. We're ready to go play a game.''

So is ETSU.

Tickets sold out in 15 minutes for Thursday's game at the 6,212-seat Kermit Tipton Stadium in Johnson City, Tennessee. ETSU, located in the northeast corner of Tennessee, decided to bring back football as it attempts to boost the school's enrollment from 15,000 to 18,000.

''The reality of it is when ETSU dropped football, they really lost a generation of fans because a lot of people kind of were very disappointed and unhappy,'' ETSU athletic director Richard Sander said. ''Bringing it back, we've kind of found that lost generation.''

In building these programs, both schools got assists from College Football Hall of Famers within their home states.

Former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer operated as a special consultant for ETSU and assisted in the Buccaneers' coaching search. Former Georgia coach Vince Dooley chaired an exploratory committee that studied the feasibility of adding football at Kennesaw State, located just north of Atlanta.

ETSU launched a campaign to build a stadium on campus with a seating capacity of over 10,000, and school officials hope to have it ready in 2017. Kennesaw State already has an 8,660-seat stadium on campus.

Both schools are Football Championship Subdivision programs. Kennesaw State has joined the Big South, while ETSU will play a full Southern Conference schedule starting in 2016. Freshmen make up the vast majority of the rosters for both teams.

After all that planning, they're eager to play. Kennesaw State quarterback Trey White says the game could come down to which team is better able to handle the distractions that come along with an inaugural game.

''We have to realize it's still a game,'' White said. ''We're not here to be the first team to play. We're here to be the first team to win.''

The two schools took different paths in choosing head coaches, though both picked guys with area ties.

Bohannon, a 34-year-old former Navy and Georgia Tech assistant, will be making his head coaching debut Thursday. ETSU's Carl Torbush, 63, has previous head coaching experience at Louisiana Tech and North Carolina and was a defensive coordinator at six Football Bowl Subdivision programs.

''I told people all the time that I've coached all over the country for about 40 years, (but) this area's always been home,'' said Torbush, who grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. ''Every time I had the chance to come back home, I was over here. The opportunity to live here, coach here and be a part of this is a special feeling.''

ETSU's roster includes one player who's been on the other side of this situation. ETSU defensive lineman Joe Pittman was at UAB last season when that school decided to shut down its program. UAB reversed course in June and indicated it would start playing football again as early as 2016.

''Probably one of the things I looked forward to the most, after getting football taken away, was just seeing a college football atmosphere again,'' Pittman said.

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