Former Kennesaw Mountain standout Tanner Jones will forever be known as the one who created Kennesaw State's current sideline atmosphere. 

KENNESAW -- Tanner Jones will forever be known as the one who created Kennesaw State's current sideline atmosphere. 

Jones is the one that introduced the team to Plank -- a 2-by-4 block of wood with an odd face, which is a character from the old Cartoon Network series "Ed, Edd n Eddy." The Owls have rallied around Plank for the last few years, with everyone who makes a big defensive play honored with receiving the unofficial trophy as they come off the field. 

This season, however, Jones has an opportunity to be more than just the guy who brought Plank to life.

Against Alabama State, Jones made the biggest play of his college career, blocking a punt on the Hornets' opening drive. That set up the Kennesaw State offense with a short field, which turned into the first touchdown of the game and the stepping stone to a 42-7 win.

"I don't want to let my coach down," Jones said. "I want to put a smile on his face. 

It was the first blocked punt of Jones' playing career, at any level. The play left a pretty good bruise on his hand, but he said that is what football is all about.

"It felt amazing," Jones said.

Now, he is ready for his first catch as a wide receiver. 

"That first catch will be the best moment of my life," Jones said. 

Considering the path he has taken to get to this point, Jones deserves more than one. 

After his freshman season at Shorter University in Rome, the former Kennesaw Mountain standout decided he wanted to come home and transferred to Kennesaw State. 

"Being from Kennesaw, I always wanted to make my name known," Jones said.

Jones arrived on campus as a running back, though he had to try out as a walk-on just to make the team. He made it and went to practice every day with the knowledge he likely was not going to see the field much his first season in 2017.

Jones did not make the field that year, but as the team was preparing for the 2018 season, Owls coach Brian Bohannon asked Jones to switch to cornerback. There was a depth issue, and Bohannon felt like Jones could see playing time on the defensive side of the ball. 

Jones gladly switched to help the team and finished the 2018 season with 10 tackles, including one for loss. Then came the offseason, when Bohannon had another request for Jones.

"The position changes, I asked him to go to corner because we didn’t have depth there, and he said, 'I’ll do whatever I need to do for the team, coach,'" Bohannon said. "(This year, we were) concerned about some receiver stuff, so I brought him back in -- and I felt bad bringing him back in -- and I said, 'Listen, it’s your choice, I’m not going to tell you what to do. If you want to go play wideout, we think there’s an opportunity for you to go play there,' and he said, 'Coach, I’ll do whatever.'"

It is that kind of unselfishness that creates team unity and creates leaders. Right now, it is kind of an on-the-job training course for what Jones wants to do when he graduates.

"I'll graduate with a degree in psychology," he said. "I want to do industrial psychology. It's management training for CEOs. It's teaching people how to be leaders."

Jones is one of many Kennesaw State players who have found their way onto the field after making a position change.

Former quarterback Jake McKenzie became one of the best running backs in the Big South Conference because he had too much talent to keep on the bench. Current running back Bronson Rechsteiner was originally a linebacker, while recent graduate Devin Pughsley switched from defensive end to offensive line for his senior season and was an immediate starter.

"I think that just speaks volumes about (Jones') character," Bohannon said. "He’s not about himself. He’s not a 'me' guy. He’s a team guy. His answer is going to be whatever’s best for the team. When you get a group that’s like that, you have a chance to do some fun things when they make it about the team and not about themselves." 

Fun things are what Jones began when he started bringing Plank around.

Listening to defensive lineman Desmond Johnson, Jones began to bring his wooden friend to Fifth Third Bank Stadium. First, it was in the locker room. Then, it made it to the bench. The fun really started late in the 2017 season after Taylor Henkle pulled down an interception at Montana State.

It was the first away game for Plank, and when Henkle was photographed with it, a phenomenon was born. Soon he had his own Twitter account, he was followed by Miami's turnover chain, and he was written about on ESPN.com, SI.com and the Washington Post.

After that, Plank started dressing as well -- if not better than many of the team members -- arriving at the stadium in a makeshift suit and tie. It turns out, keeping Plank in the style in which it is accustomed is a family affair.

"That's my child," Jones said. "My niece and mom dress him up before every game. My dad, he loves him. It makes him feel like a grandpa."

Fast-forward to the Alabama State game last week. Jones blocked the punt and went to celebrate on the sidelines with his teammates. It was the first time he had a chance to celebrate with Plank, and he finally earned the opportunity.

How much fun was it?

"We forgot him," Jones said, as the celebration slipped the minds of he and his teammates. 

It was a missed opportunity Jones hopes to amend later this season. However, when the year is done, Jones knows he has a difficult decision to make.

Does he take Plank with him, or does he leave his child in the good hands of his teammates?

"I'll give him to the team," Jones said.

Jones has found ways to leave his mark on the Owls, and it has not gone unnoticed.

"I think his attitude, the way he goes about his business, he plays hard, he’s given every chance to have an impact on some games and a bigger impact on our team," Bohannon said. When you show up with a great attitude and work hard, in this program, you’ll end up contributing on the field. Somehow, you are going to impact this program, because that’s core values for us. He really represents what that is about."

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John Bednarowski is the sports editor of the Marietta Daily Journal and the former president of the Associated Press Sports Editors. He can be reached at sportseditor@mdjonline.com or on Twitter @jbednarowski


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