Former Cavalier enjoys dream season

Published 9:20 pm Saturday, December 9, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

KENNESAW – When former Callaway Cavalier Brandon Sutton arrived at Kennesaw State, the football program was in its infancy.

In that fall of 2014, the Owls were still a year away from playing their first game, but even then Sutton said the coaches were encouraging the players to have lofty expectations.

“When I first decided to come to Kennesaw State, coach (Grant) Chestnut our offensive coordinator and offensive-line coach, one thing he always preached to us is that in the first few years, we should see ourselves doing something big,” said Sutton.

That expectation has been realized.

Today, Kennesaw State and Sam Houston State will meet in the quarterfinals of the Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals.

While Sam Houston State is one of the traditional powerhouses in the FCS, this is all new to Kennesaw State.

The Owls have been playing football for three years, and this is their first foray into the FCS playoffs.

The Owls may be the newcomer to the party, but the stage obviously isn’t too big for them.

After getting past Samford 28-17 in the first round of the playoffs, Kennesaw State beat Jacksonville 17-7 last week.

Now, Kennesaw State is three wins away from winning a national championship, which would be an extraordinary accomplishment for a program this young.

“To see how far we’ve come in the first four years, including that first year when we only practiced and didn’t have any games, it’s an amazing opportunity,” Sutton said.

Sutton was a four-year starter on the offensive line for Callaway, and he was a part of the team that reached the Class AA semifinals in 2013.

Sutton was a part of Kennesaw State’s first recruiting class in 2014, and during the spring before the 2015 season, he was moved to tight end.

Kennesaw State runs a triple-option offense, so the tight end is basically another offensive lineman, and Sutton is fine with that.

“I really enjoy it,” Sutton said. “I like being able to provide an impact. Even though we’re a triple-option team, and the tight end’s not a huge position, I just do what I can for the team and still provide an impact. It’s been amazing, and I just love being able to help.”

In the fall of 2014, the Owls laid the groundwork for what they’re accomplishing now.

Kennesaw State didn’t play any games, but the team held dozens of practices as it looked to nail down the complex triple-option offense.

“From the first fall, we had 78 practices and no games,” Sutton said. “Every day, it was just learning how to perfect every play, getting our securing blocks, and just trying to perfect every little detail, so every play could be a potential scoring play.”

The Owls went 6-5 in their first season in 2015, and they were 8-3 last year and headed into the final week of the season with a chance to win a conference title.

Kennesaw State came into this season with lofty expectations, but it fell to Samford 28-23 in the opener.

“After a loss to Samford, we had like a come to Jesus meeting so to speak among ourselves,” Sutton said. “We had to set our minds what we wanted to do, what we wanted this program to be, and just knowing that we could do it. We had to just go out there and play, and keep winning.”

Kennesaw State won its next 10 games to complete a 10-1 regular season, and it won the Big South championship to earn a playoff berth.

In the first round of the playoffs, Kennesaw State got another shot at Samford, and it won 28-17.

That set up a showdown with Jacksonville State, which was considered to be one of the top FCS teams in the country.

Behind a dominant defensive effort, Kennesaw State won 17-7.

“We opened our playoffs against Samford, the team we lost to in the first game of the season. So we were all excited about that, and the opportunity to get revenge,” Sutton said. “After that, we went up to Jacksonville State, the number three team in the nation in FCS. And we showed them how all of our hard work is paying off. We’re here to play, and we’re here to compete for a national championship.”

Whatever happens today, it has been a special journey for the Owls, including the nearly 20 players who were there from the get-go in 2014.

“I believe there are around 17 or 18 still here from the original class,” Sutton said. “To see how far we’ve come in the first four years, including that first year when we only practiced and didn’t have any games, it’s an amazing opportunity.”

Sutton, who is on schedule to graduate with a degree in Sociology, said he has enjoyed every moment of his time at Kennesaw State.

“My time here at Kennesaw, it’s been great,” Sutton said. “It’s been everything I was hoping for. The coaches are amazing, the school’s amazing.

“I’m actually getting ready to graduate this summer, and I’m looking forward to what other opportunities I’ll have in the future.”