Will Cape, Luther Jones, Xavier Harper and Rashaan Doleman won’t play a college football game in 2014.
It hardly means they were left out of National Signing Day participation. If anything, they’re part of a small group of high school seniors that made history during Wednesday’s activity.
The four area standouts are set to join the up-and-coming Kennesaw State football program in the fall, forever leaving their legacy with the team as members of its first-ever roster.
North Hall’s Cape, Union County’s Jones and Jackson County’s Harper were among 29 players that signed letters of intent with the Owls Wednesday. Doleman, from Flowery Branch, will join as a preferred walk-on.
“It’s something you can look at down the road and say, ‘I was first,’” Cape said. “We built that thing from the bottom.”
Playing on Saturday is still in the distance for Kennesaw State. It won’t play games until 2015, when it kicks off its inaugural season as a member of the Big South Conference at the FCS level.
Instead, the Owls’ first roster will spend this fall conducting 44 football-related activities, including practices, conditioning sessions and scrimmages, while the pieces fall in place for the following year.
Even a season without games couldn’t deter their signees.
“I’m glad we’re going to be able to get bigger and practice,” Jones said. “It’s going to make our team more hungry to play. We’ll come out that first season when we actually get to play, and we’ll be excited.”
Reasons for sticking with a start-up program that won’t even play a game for another 20 months were mixed. Some players wanted to stay closer to home. Others were wowed by the brand-new facilities. Others simply clicked with the Owls head coach Brian Bohannon and his staff.
At least among the area’s four signees, one aspect was of Kennesaw State was shared: A chance to be part of something new.
“I just felt like I wanted to be part of something new and leave a legacy,” Jones said. “To be part of the first signing class is really big to me, because I feel like this team is going to create a bond, and I think we’re going to be really good.”
Like other future teammates, Jones had the opportunity to commit elsewhere and sign with an already-established program. After recording 66 tackles and 22 tackles for loss for Union County in 2013, the 6-foot, 285-pound nose tackle had offers from Charleston Southern, Mercer, Coastal Carolina, Air Force, Citadel, Wofford, Western Carolina and Kennesaw State.
Then he discovered what Bohannon called “the best-kept secret in the South.” A grassroots FCS program at a school with more than 30,000 students, a brand-new stadium and 2,300 season tickets already sold for its inaugural season.
On top of that, Jones would have a chance to play in a 4-2-5 defense, ending his days of being triple-teamed as the lone nose tackle in a three-front defense, something he had persevered through at Union County.
“With the four-front, it’s harder to be triple-teamed, and we’re going to be moving a lot,” Jones said. “It’ll be really hard to read our defense.”
He was sold. Jones will not play a football game this fall for the first time since he was four-years old.
And he couldn’t be more excited.
“The first game we actually play, we’ll all come out jacked up,” Jones said.
In Gainesville, Cape became a key element of North Hall’s secondary, recording 172 tackles and three interceptions during his final two years with the Trojans. When all was said and done, the 5-10, 180-pound defensive back received offers from Mercer, Presbyterian, Liberty, Pennsylvania, Hampton and Kennesaw State.
Cape’s decision to join the Owls came after a tour of the state-of-the-art facilities, as well as an opportunity to spend an entire season priming himself for the pace of college football without losing a year of eligibility. All of Kennesaw State’s incoming players will be redshirted and still have four years of playing time left when 2015 rolls around.
Bohannon said in Wednesday’s press conference that the team anticipates a fall 2014 roster with a minimum of 80 “development” players, made up primarily of walk-ons.
“I actually looked at it from a positive side, because freshman year is the hardest for college,” Cape said. “It’s just easing into it before football takes off.”
Harper’s decision to join the program stems from Bohannon’s offense. The former Georgia Tech offensive coordinator was known for his powerful running game out of the triple-option formation with the Yellow Jackets, but said he would be adding passing elements to the spread-based scheme at Kennesaw State.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Jackson County wide receiver has spent the past two seasons as one of the state’s most productive wideouts. As a senior, he caught 62 passes for 1,164 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Much of that was a product of eruptive screen plays with the Panthers, something Harper was told he’d see plenty of with the Owls.
“I’ll get to keep my screen game and still run my same routes,” Harper said. “(Bohannon) will keep me involved in the offense. Even though it’s a triple-option spread, it’s still pass-heavy.”
While not receiving a full-ride scholarship, Doleman is just as excited to be part of the team’s first-ever lineup.
At 6-1 and 325 pounds, the Flowery Branch senior has all the size he needs to excel at the college level. He just needed a team that would give him a chance to prove it.
“The recruiting process for me was just going back and forth,” Doleman said. “They’ve been keeping in touch for a while, and said I can come as a preferred walk-on, and I decided to make that decision.”
Doleman will attend Kennesaw State on the HOPE Scholarship as a freshman, but can still obtain an athletic scholarship later on in his career.
And make history in the process.
“I think it’ll be cool to go somewhere new, in a start-up program,” Doleman said. “I think we’ll do great things, if everyone comes and works hard.”
Kennesaw State is the second Division-I college football program in Georgia to break ground in the last three years. Mercer University, a fellow FCS team, began a program in 2012 without a schedule. In 2013, the Bears surprised the Pioneer League with a 10-2 inaugural record.
Cape and his new teammates are confident they can follow in suit with immediate success in 2015.
“The limit is sky-high right now,” Cape said. “There’s so much happening down there — everyone is so excited about the program down there.”