How Stetson Bennett IV went from walk-on to Georgia’s finest probability to take down Alabama

BLACKSHEAR, Ga. — When Stetson Bennett III moved his household from suburban Atlanta to southeast Georgia in the summertime of 2004, he took his eldest son and namesake to see the small city’s highschool soccer stadium whereas they waited for shifting vehicles to reach.

“Daddy, it is slightly small,” Stetson Bennett IV stated.

“Yeah, however they will must make it larger while you get right here,” his father informed him.

Stetson Bennett IV was within the first grade.

Whereas the stage may need appeared small in Brantley County again then, Bennett IV could not ask for an even bigger one on Saturday night time. He has unexpectedly turn into Georgia’s beginning quarterback and can lead the No. 3 Bulldogs in a nationally televised recreation at No. 2 Alabama.

“No, I do not suppose it might get any larger till Dec. 19,” Bennett IV stated, referring to the scheduled date for the SEC championship recreation in Atlanta. “It should be fairly large Saturday.”

Bennett’s circuitous route from flippantly recruited highschool prospect to most popular walk-on to junior faculty after which again to Georgia occurred as a result of most faculty coaches believed he was too small to succeed on the FBS stage.

Regardless of main Pierce County Excessive College to a few consecutive state playoff appearances and throwing for 3,724 yards, operating for 500 and scoring 40 complete touchdowns as a senior, his solely FBS scholarship supply got here from Center Tennessee State. FCS packages akin to Mercer, Samford, Harvard and Princeton wished him, however FBS coaches thought he was too brief and too gentle (he was 5-foot-11 and 185 kilos on the time).

“While you develop up in slightly small city in Georgia, it is laborious to be seen,” his father stated. “Even when you’re, it is simple to be discounted.”

Bennett III did the whole lot in his management to verify his son had an opportunity at following his dream to play big-time faculty soccer. Whereas his new pharmacy was being in-built Nahunta, Georgia, which is about 80 miles northwest of Jacksonville, Florida, he leveled an adjoining lot for a soccer subject.

The sector was solely 80 yards lengthy; one of many finish zones would have been in the midst of Freeway 82 if it have been the complete 100 yards. Orange development fences prevented footballs (and gamers) from bounding into site visitors.

Bennett III bought two 53-foot delivery containers, lower off one facet of every, and had them welded collectively. The “Hideout” sat behind his pharmacy, and it is the place Bennett IV and his Brantley Bandits teammates gathered practically each day.

“I walked the halls of the elementary faculty recruiting children to play,” his father stated. “It did not matter if he was 30 kilos or 80, I informed him he seemed like he was going to be a soccer participant.”

After faculty, the gamers gathered on the Hideout for snacks of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and milk, a 15-minute devotional, tutoring and homework, after which a exercise and follow. There have been cabinets for the gamers to hold their tools, together with two referee shirts and a pair of whistles.

Bennett III and different coaches lined the sphere with 10-yard strains and hash marks. One factor lacking: a sequence gang. If a kickoff was returned to the 32-yard line, the possession began on the 30-yard line. If the subsequent move went 14 yards, it was backed as much as the 40. The native guidelines usually left opponents scratching their heads.

Throughout recreation week, Bennett III hung a banner selling the sport from his pharmacy, and it wasn’t uncommon for 100 folks or so to indicate up.

Throughout Bennett IV’s seventh-grade season in 2010, the Brantley Bandits performed a 34-game schedule, together with three video games in at some point. They completed 32-2.

“Gosh, that might be loopy to do now,” Bennett IV stated. “We traveled in every single place.”

As an eighth-grader, Bennett IV sat within the Pierce County Excessive College workforce’s quarterback conferences and broke down movie with head coach Sean Pender. That very same season, after he threw for 455 yards in opposition to a rival faculty’s JV workforce, the varsity coach informed his dad, “That boy is for actual. I’ve by no means seen a efficiency like that. He can throw it in a mailbox.”

The legend of the “Mailman” was born. A 12 months or two later, a Pierce County Excessive teammate, whose father was mayor of a close-by city, gave Bennett IV a U.S. Postal Service hat.

“We began calling him the Mailman,” stated Kole Kicklighter, one in every of his teammates in highschool. “He appreciated it and everyone else appreciated it, so it caught.”

Bennett IV wore the blue Postal Service hat in an try to face out at 7-on-7 tournaments and faculty camps.

Nonetheless, the Energy 5 scholarship supply that he desperately wished by no means got here.

“Generally I simply did not actually perceive it as a result of I used to be like, ‘Properly, I am fairly certain I am higher than these guys, and I believe I am smarter than them and sooner than them,'” Bennett stated. “I actually did not know what was happening. I assume you simply get used to it after which simply say, ‘Properly, you have simply obtained to indicate them typically.'”

Pender, who performed for Hal Mumme at Valdosta State, stated peak was the one purpose his quarterback wasn’t extra closely recruited.

“He was all the time smaller, perhaps 5 toes, 9 inches as a sophomore,” Pender stated. “He had a dwell arm and was quick, witty and had a gunslinger’s mentality. He would not dwell on errors and moved on. He simply has that knack. You possibly can inform some children have that ‘it’ issue. He has it.”

Bennett’s father and mom, Denise, each attended Georgia, and he grew up attending Bulldogs video games. UGA’s coaches did not appear , both.

That modified when Georgia signee Richard LeCounte informed Bulldogs coach Kirby Sensible concerning the fleet-footed quarterback. LeCounte had performed in opposition to Bennett and Stanford dedication Davis Mills (Larger Atlanta Christian), who was rated the nation’s high quarterback by not less than two recruiting companies in 2016.

“Davis Mills is perhaps one of the best quarterback within the nation,” LeCounte informed Sensible, based on Stetson Bennett III, “however he is solely second finest in Class AAA. I’ve performed in opposition to each, and Stetson Bennett is best.”

Bennett joined the Bulldogs as a most popular walk-on and ran the scout-team offense whereas redshirting in 2017. He drew reward from Georgia’s protection after mimicking Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield in preparation for enjoying Oklahoma in a CFP semifinal on the Rose Bowl.

“Stetson Bennett is a beast, man,” then-defensive coordinator Mel Tucker stated on the time. “He places loads of stress on our protection as a result of he’s extraordinarily fast, he is quick and he can throw. He can throw within the pocket and he can throw on the run, and he is very, very aggressive.”

Then-Bulldogs linebacker Lorenzo Carter, now with the New York Giants, stated Bennett made him and present Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith “look foolish” in Rose Bowl practices.

“He is a fast man,” Carter stated. “He can outrun lots of people. He is made Roquan look foolish; he is made me look foolish. He is made lots of people look foolish.”

But, when Georgia signed extremely regarded freshman Justin Fields to compete with returning starter Jake Fromm the subsequent season, Bennett IV might see the writing on the wall. He transferred to Jones Faculty in Ellisville, Mississippi, the place he threw for 1,840 yards with 16 touchdowns in 2018.

Bennett was set to signal with Louisiana when Pender referred to as him, shortly after Fields introduced he was transferring to Ohio State.

“Would you return to Georgia if they will have you ever?” Pender requested him.

“Sure,” Bennett stated. “But it surely needs to be totally different this time.”

Pender had turn into pleasant with then-Bulldogs offensive line coach Sam Pittman, who was recruiting Warren McClendon from Brunswick Excessive College on the Georgia coast, the place Pender is now teaching. Pender helped reunite Bennett with the Bulldogs.

“I believe that is what it was — simply to have an opportunity this time to compete for the beginning job,” Bennett stated.

Final season, Bennett performed in 5 video games behind Fromm, making an attempt 27 passes with two touchdowns. When Fromm left early for the NFL draft, the Bulldogs introduced in two transfers — Wake Forest’s Jamie Newman and USC’s JT Daniels — to compete to interchange him.

Bennett appeared just like the odd man out as soon as once more. The truth is, a few weeks earlier than the beginning of preseason camp in August, new offensive coordinator Todd Monken informed him as a lot.

“It was irritating, however I simply stored my head down and stored working and making an attempt to show them improper,” Bennett stated. “I wished to verify each time my quantity was referred to as, I’d be able to go.”

On Sept. 2, Newman introduced that he was opting out of the season due to considerations concerning the coronavirus. Daniels, who had missed all however one recreation at USC final season due to a knee harm, nonetheless hadn’t been medically cleared to play. Bennett and redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis have been left to compete for the beginning job.

The Bulldogs went with Mathis within the Sept. 26 opener at Arkansas, however he seemed overwhelmed whereas finishing 8 of 17 passes for 55 yards with one interception. Bennett got here off the bench and threw for 211 yards and two touchdowns on 20-for-29 passing, main Georgia to a 37-10 win.

“Stetson is assured. He is assured in himself, and he is a competitor,” offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer stated. “Stets goes on the market and provides it the whole lot he is obtained each day. He does not prefer to lose. You possibly can simply see that on the job when he got here in at Arkansas.”

Bennett threw for 240 yards with one rating in a 27-6 victory over then-No. 7 Auburn the subsequent week, then had 238 passing yards with three complete touchdowns in a 44-21 win over then-No. 14 Tennessee final week.

In three video games, he’s finishing 63.1% of his makes an attempt with 5 touchdowns and no interceptions. His Complete QBR of 93.1 ranks third amongst FBS gamers, behind Ole Miss’ Matt Corral and Alabama’s Mac Jones.

“I actually suppose he is simply himself,” Sensible stated. “He does not attempt to be another person. He does not attempt to artificially lead or faux it. He by no means did that whereas he was making an attempt to compete for the job, and he hasn’t carried out it since he obtained the job. Stetson is who he’s, and I believe the ability gamers on offense, the offensive line, all of them belief him and rally round him as a result of they know he understands what we’re making an attempt to do offensively and he can put them in good conditions.”

On Saturday night time, in a recreation which may very properly influence the SEC championship and CFP races, Bennett will face his most troublesome take a look at on the most important stage but.

It will likely be a good distance from that tiny soccer stadium in southeast Georgia.

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