In 2014, they were part of that first group of players to arrive on the campus just northwest of the metropolis of Atlanta (Ga.). That first fall was all practice. It was so tedious that head coach Brian Bohannon told HERO Sports this week that after countless practices training without a game, the staff took players out to a Trampoline Park and they had pizza — just to do something different than knock each other around.
But that monotonous year of building-block hell is one big reason the 2017 Kennesaw State Owls are 12-1 and in the FCS quarterfinals this week. A big group of kids came together that first fall, and those "kids" have all grown up in this system over the past three years and built an absolute machine that has won 26 of its first 35 games. On offense, as Burks likes to put it, "we're built to score on every single play". And along with that style of play in the Triple Option Offense (go ahead and put one of those tiny 'TM' things here for 'Trademark', because it deserves it), the defense has been suffocating — with a huge assist from the offense, which squeezes every nanosecond of life out of that poor, tired old clock.
Sumpter — who will go down in KSU history as the guy who caught the program's first TD pass in the program's first game — remembers it all well.
"We practiced that whole year, but honestly I kind of needed it," Sumpter told HERO Sports this week. "I didn't really play from 6th to 9th grade and I didn't play a lot as a sophomore. It let me get my feet back under me."
Kennesaw State QB Chandler Burks (3) is one of only three FCS QBs who've rushed for 1,000 yards (KSU Athletics)[/credit]
Sumpter, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound receiver, is a unique guy in a unique offense. His quarterback, Burks, is the team's 1,000-yard rusher — one of only three FCS QBs to do that in 2017. The backfield has five other guys who've rushed for at least 300 yards this year and played in every game — some are grinders, some are home-run threats. And then there's that line of Joseph Alexander, C.J. Collins, Matt Frank, Zach Mitchler and yes, a Warrior — left tackle Ryan Warrior to be precise. They played together most of 2017, and they're all juniors.
Lining up on the outside, just waiting for the defense to cheat a little, Sumpter is half fantastic blocker/half home-run threat as a receiver. Not surprisingly, he has been noticed by NFL Scouts who appreciate the blocking as much as the dazzling receptions.
"Anybody who wants to cover Justin Sumpter, we'll take that matchup any time," his QB Burks told HERO Sports. "He's very long and very aggressive and that one thing you won't see on SportsCenter is he probably averages 5 pancake blocks a game. He plays great without the ball, plus he sets up well to play any ball in the air."
Sumpter, Burks, the line … they've all done such a great job controlling things offensively that the defense benefits by being able to rest up by playing fewer snaps, on average. The program is allowing only 14 points per game and held No. 3 FCS seed Jacksonville State to just 7 points.
"I don't think the time of possession is a point of emphasis for the offense, it just kind of happens that way," Burks explained. "It's also a credit to the defense we play. Our guys don't flinch and no moment is too big for us. That's been our M.O. is to stay on the field and finish in the endzone or kick it through the uprights."
All in all, Bohannon — the former Georgia receiver who has spent time at Georgia Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech under Paul Johnson and his Triple-O tutelage — is quite happy with how his staff's original plan has been falling into place. 'Coach Bo', as his players affectionately refer to him as, said they obviously were trying to set that championship-winning tone from day one. The first year of the program saw a 6-5 record, last year was 8-3 and this year it is 12-1 going into this Saturday's Sam Houston State quarterfinal game.
"That first year was a challenge and I could talk about it for hours," Bohannon told HERO Sports on Monday. "But this team grew from that experience and listened to what we were saying."
HERO Sports is dedicated to college football, with an emphasis on FCS coverage. We are proud to be the go-to site for comprehensive FCS analysis for fans across the country. HERO Sports also publishes betting odds and insights for FBS games.