You’ve probably seen Turnover Plank, the smiling block of wood that’s become one team’s version of the Miami Hurricanes’ gold chain. First, here’s Plank’s origin story.
As pieced together by five different Kennesaw State Owls, including head coach Brian Bohannon, who brought WR Dez Johnson into his office to help track it down:
- Scout team wide receiver Tanner Jones found Plank somewhere in Florida on spring break in 2015.
- Two years later, Jones’ father was cleaning the garage and asked whether Plank was worth hanging on to.
- Jones started bringing Plank to the locker room every day in October.
- Redshirt junior safety Taylor Henkle takes it from there:
“I’d seen Plank around. I saw him on the plane. Somebody had him, but nobody did anything with him. After I got an interception [at Montana State on Nov. 4], somebody — I don’t even know who it is, we’re still trying to figure it out — handed it to me. I had no idea what to do. There was a couple Kennesaw State fans in the front row, so I just held it up to them.”
It wasn’t until that photo of Henkle and Plank went viral that the team decided Plank had become Turnover Plank.
A week later, Plank inspired instant coverage by us, Sports Illustrated, the Washington Post, Bleacher Report, and so on by showing up like this:
Jones remains Plank’s recognized guardian and primary wardrobe overseer. Before practice, the block of wood with marker scrawlings for a face is spoken of by team personnel with near-giggling reverence. Players can’t look directly at Plank during practice because that’d rob him of his magic, an assistant coach theorizes.
The thing is, Plank is Kennesaw State. His story is the Owls’ story. Waiting for an identity to arise is the theme.
(And not just because both Plank and this team debuted in 2015 and were barely known nationally until 2017.)
College football has something like 1,200 teams on this continent alone. The oldest ones have been around for 148 years and counting.
So if you’ve become one the biggest universities in one of the country’s most football-riddled states and you don’t have a program, you’re going to feel led by the spirit to start one. And then what?
You’ll build on best practices, from [Mascot] Walks to renovated fight songs to social media graphics to business partnerships.
You’ll bring in a local legend for clout, as the Owls did when former UGA national champion Vince Dooley led the exploratory committee. In 2010, he announced in the gym that his group was “overwhelmingly in favor of Kansas State football.”
He corrected himself and worried his wife would scold him. Outside, campus was full of students in SEC, ACC, and Big Ten gear. The brand was at square one.
Fast forward to November 2017, with the Owls on the verge of the FCS playoffs.
Bohannon, long the right-hand man of Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson, has brought the flexbone offense from Statesboro to downtown Atlanta to the North Metro. As you’d expect, this is the most productive rushing offense in FCS. The meticulous, take-what-the-defense-gives-you mentality of the triple option applies to letting a program emerge organically, even if that means waiting for a smiling wooden board to escape a wide receiver’s garage.
“The kids did all this. It’s just evolved,” says Bohannon. “Like at first, it was ‘laying the wood’ because it was a piece of wood, and then it became the Turnover Plank. I don’t think anybody had an intention on where it would go.”
“It’s turned into an incentive, make guys wanna get a turnover,” says redshirt junior DB Jace White. “They come to the sideline: Where’s Plank at?”
“These guys now, heck, if they get a turnover, not only it’s big for our team, but with the Plank, there’s a good chance they might get on ESPN,” Bohannon says.
KSU’s defense is top-10 per-play on the ground and tied with reigning champ JMU for the lead in interceptions per game.
“Last week, I got the first turnover of the game, got Plank in my pants,” senior defensive lineman Tonarius Portress says. “You know, just walking around with Plank in my pants.”
Plank is superior to any of college football’s many other turnover trophies, with the possible exception of Miami’s.
“It’s a different feeling, now that we got something like that to have. You see all those big teams, with all that big stuff that costs all type of money. We got our Plank, you know?” Portress says. “It’s still special to us, because of where it came from.”
“It fits our team perfectly,” says Henkle. “We got some characters on this team, and the Plank adds to it. Ed, Edd and Eddy is a funny show, and it fits right along with the players we have.”
“I don’t know anybody who’s not a fan of Ed, Edd and Eddy,” Portress says.
Plank is a replica of a character on the cartoon, a block of wood that’s treated like a human friend.
Oh, and there’s more.
“You made a big play or a touchdown, you get a free haircut on the sideline,” Portress explains. “A nice line-up on the sideline. That’s something that the offense started.”
“I didn’t know about the barber shop until I watched the TV copy,” says Bohannon. “Things that go on during the game behind me, I’m oblivious to. This game, you’re meant to have fun. As long as they can dial in, I think it’s awesome.
“At the end of the day, we’re winning, and our kids are having fun. And that’s what it’s all about.”
Plank leads a roster full of three-year starters and redshirt juniors, with only 12 listed seniors.
“Plank’ll be around for a long time here,” says Portress.
“I would imagine so,” Bohannon says. “If it’s something the kids are excited about, it’s probably gonna live on.”
The Atlanta Braves are now neighbors, and the 2018 Owls will host FCS power Jacksonville State at Sun Trust Park, just outside the City of Atlanta’s Perimeter.
With a win Saturday against top-25 conference rival Monmouth, the Owls will win the Big South in Year 3. They might make the playoffs regardless, having lost only one game: against No. 16 Samford in a weather-delayed fiasco in which the Owls piled up 234 more yards than the Bulldogs did.
Five years ago, people who’ve known me for years still assumed Owl alumni like me went to Georgia or Georgia State. Now, as more and more alumni fill the area, seeing KSU stickers and hats is no longer a jolt.
I’m not sure how closely to tie that slowly emerging identity to the three-year-old team.
But this team is good, and it happened in a quickly patient way. The Owls didn’t barrel into playing FBS teams, try to load the roster with fallen FBS stars, announce an aggressive stadium plan, or take a swing at a big-name coach who’d been around the block.
“Sometimes with a new program, you try to orchestrate everything,” Bohannon says. “But I’ve even told some of the administration here: Sometimes, if you just let the kids grab ahold of it, it’s gonna work.
“Sometimes the best ideas are just things that evolve naturally.”