Call it a match made in football heaven.
East Tennessee State University announced it will officially return to the world of college football on Sept. 3, 2015 with a game against Kennesaw State’s fledgling program.
The Bucs will play host to the Owls that Thursday night at 7:30 and the game will be played at Kermit Tipton Stadium, now expected to be ETSU’s home field for at least its entire first season back in the football business.
It will be the first game ever for Kennesaw State, making it a perfect match for an ETSU program that will have been dormant for 12 years.
“Our two programs are parallel, getting things going at the same time,” ETSU Athletic Director Richard Sander said Thursday during a news conference at Millennium Center announcing the game. “It just made a whole lot of sense to kind of make this game up. It’s gonna be a great evening. It’s an historic evening. Everybody who has any connection with East Tennessee State University really has to be at this football game.”
ETSU President Brian Noland made the announcement in front of an assembled crowd of media, alumni and supporters. Also speaking were ETSU head coach Carl Torbush and his Kennesaw State counterpart Brian Bohannon and Kennesaw State Athletic Director Vaughn Williams.
“ETSU people, it’s back,” Torbush said matter-of-factly. “It’s here. It’s what you’ve been waiting on. It’s for real now. We’ve got a real, live ballgame we’re getting ready for. We’ve got a date, we’ve got a time. … There will never be another time like this.”
The announcement that the opening game will be at Science Hill High School’s stadium was an admission that ETSU’s proposed new stadium will not be finished in time for the first season. Sander said he expects at least the first season’s home games to be played at Kermit Tipton, although he hinted that Kingsport or Bristol might enter the discussion at some point.
“This is our one chance to do this,” he said of building a stadium. “We’d rather err on the side of getting it right and maybe it takes a little longer. Science Hill has been great. They’ve been so supportive. It’s just a great, great relationship.”
ETSU has yet to reveal where its planned stadium will be built.
The festivities at Millennium Center included the showing of a video featuring two former successful Southeastern Conference coaches, Phillip Fulmer of Tennessee and Vince Dooley of Georgia. Both won national championships. Fulmer has assisted ETSU in getting football up and running, while Dooley has done the same at Kennesaw State.
“It’s been great to work with legends,” Williams said. “Both of them are unbelievable ambassadors for the game of football. This is a fitting opportunity for two programs to start their new traditions. We’re just thrilled and excited.”
The rest of ETSU’s 2015 schedule is a work in progress, although Sander said the Bucs will not play any “money” games against FBS opponents.
“We may buy a couple games,” Sander said. “The last thing we want to do is go play somebody we can’t compete with. We’ll have a super young class and we want to give them every opportunity. So we will not play any money games.”
Sander and Williams and the two head coaches took part in a ceremonial signing of the contract that also calls for ETSU to play the following season at Kennesaw State.
Bohannon was hired by Kennesaw State from Georgia Tech, where he was quarterbacks coach. He also coached at Georgia Southern for five years, making him familiar with ETSU.
“I haven’t been on the grass in a while and I enjoy coaching football,” Bohannon said. “I had that little bit of a knot in my stomach on the ride over here today like it was an away game. And they took us over to the stadium, which made it even worse. I was ready to play.
“What a great partnership right here to start this thing off. I can’t think of a better way to get our football started off.”