The state’s three newest Division I football programs are finding that their schools’ other athletic achievements are helping to cast a light on their endeavors.
Kennesaw State University’s win at the Tallahassee baseball regional, and Mercer’s upset of Duke in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament first round have been boons for their football teams, their respective coaches said.
KSU lost to Louisville in the super regional, with the Cardinals claiming the College World Series berth. But the Owls beating Alabama twice in their first NCAA postseason appearance has helped the other sports at Cobb County campus, according to football coach Brian Bohannon.
“You couldn’t have planned it better,” he said. “Everything we’re doing is trying to promote the university and the athletic programs. The timing is unbelievable.”
Bohannon said having the KS logo seen across the nation has pushed the school’s profile, and he got swept up in the excitement of the Owls baseball team.
“I’m watching the game in my office, and I’m going crazy,” said the former Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech assistant. “It’s awesome for our baseball team and everything they’re doing for our university. It’s an awesome time.”
Mercer coach Bobby Lamb said he adopted the men’s basketball team when he got to Macon.
“I kind of grew up with those seniors,” he said.
And when the Bears, a No. 14 seed, beat Duke in the first round, Lamb said the Mercer logo got recognition no matter where it was seen, even at the airport in San Antonio.
“You try to brand your program,” he said. “That was huge for our university. (Basketball coach) Bob Hoffman does a great job. From a football standpoint, it elevated our recruiting even more.”
The Bears are coming off a 10-2 season in their inaugural Football Championship Subdivision campaign, and they sold out their season tickets for 10,000-seat Mercer University Stadium in just nine days.
“We have a great excitement level,” Lamb said. “We have a tremendous atmosphere.”
They also have a 42,000 square foot field house that includes coaches’ officers, locker rooms and gameday suites.
“I think that’s where programs miss the boat,” Lamb said. “They’re not ready for year one and they play in high school facilities. Because of facilities and our academics, we’re able to recruit.”
Lamb said their approach is the three As — academics, athletics and atmosphere. And when the Bears coaches went recruiting in the offseason, they had 10 wins to boast and scholarship money to offer.
“So it was a great month,” he said.
Bohannon and the Owls also have their facilities in place before kicking off for the first game. Fifth Third Bank Stadium will hold 8,300 for football — it’s also used for soccer and lacrosse — and the new locker room has 100 lockers. Aside from a football press box, the stadium is ready to go, Bohannon said.
Bohannon also said the school, now with an enrollment of 25,000, is expected to grow to 31,000.
“We probably have the top student housing in the country,” he said. “We have one of the top cafeterias that grows its own food. You can eat whatever you want anytime of day. There are a lot of good things going on.”
KSU also will merge with Southern Polytechnic State University, which is not far away in Marietta from the Kennesaw State campus and has an enrollment of 5,500. Owls baseball coach Mike Sansing came to KSU from SPSU.
“We now have a multitude of majors,” Bohannon said. “Anything you want to do, a kid will have the opportunity to do at Kennesaw State.”
The Owls football team is still a year away from playing — its first game will be against East Tennessee State, which is restarting its program after dropping it in 2003, on Sept. 3, 2015 — but much of what it needs is ready now.
“There are a lot of great things going on at Kennesaw State right now,” Bohannon said.
While Georgia State is coming off an 0-12 season, it has a more positive notoriety from the recent NFL draft. The Panthers had a player drafted for the second time, when the Indianapolis Colts selected offensive tackle Ulrick John in the seventh round.
“I don’t know the last time Georgia State had more players drafted than the University of Texas,” said Panthers coach Trent Miles. “It shows it can happen. It shows our young men you have an opportunity to be seen, that you have a chance to go to the next level. ”