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Stetson Bennett ranks among the most successful quarterbacks in college football history, a legacy he appreciates but never ponders.
Bennett led Georgia to national titles in each of the last two seasons. He is one of only four college quarterbacks to help carry their teams to consecutive championships.
Bennett knows his place in football lore. The status does not move the Rams rookie. The teamwork and sacrifice it took to achieve it do.
“Just remembering the steps, and not the result, I guess, keeps you from saying, ‘Yeah, hey, look at me,’” Bennett said.
Rams fans glimpsed Bennett for the first time on Saturday during the team’s initial public workout at UC Irvine. Thousands watched as Bennett rebounded from early mistakes and made impressive passes and runs.
After Bennett connected for his second mid-range touchdown pass — wowing the crowd and celebratory teammates such as receiver Cooper Kupp — coach Sean McVay ended practice.
“What I really like about him is, if a play doesn’t go well, he’s able to reset himself and go to the next play,” McVay said. “You can definitely feel the athleticism show up … and I think he’s getting more and more comfortable.”
Bennett, a fourth-round draft pick, was the first quarterback drafted by the Rams since 2016, when general manager Les Snead traded up a record 14 spots to make Jared Goff the No. 1 pick.
The Rams project the 5-foot-11 Bennett as a reliable backup for 15th-year pro Matthew Stafford — and perhaps as Stafford’s successor.
Receiver Cooper Kupp and quarterback Matthew Stafford showed at Rams training camp that they have appeared to regain form since their injuries last season.
In 2022, Stafford suffered a concussion and a spinal injury that limited him to nine games. Neither John Wolford nor Bryce Perkins proved productive replacements and they were not re-signed. Late-season addition Baker Mayfield departed for a starting opportunity with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Now Bennett, 25, is teammates with the 35-year-old Stafford, who starred at Georgia from 2006 to 2008. Bennett said his parents, both Georgia alums, had season tickets to watch the Bulldogs. So he grew up watching Stafford, the top pick in the 2009 NFL draft.
“To be able to come in here and just learn from him and listen has been pretty cool,” Bennett said during offseason workouts. “I haven’t fan-boy’d out yet.”
Stafford never won a college national championship, let alone two, but he led the Rams to a Super Bowl title.
Bennett is “a talented kid,” Stafford said after the Rams’ first training camp workout.
“There’s always a lot to learn as a rookie to feel comfortable in an offense, especially in your first time on an NFL field in a training camp practice,” Stafford said, “but I thought he handled himself well.”
Bennett’s journey from college walk-on to Rams draft pick was not typical.
After redshirting at Georgia in 2017, Bennett transferred to a junior college. He returned to Athens in 2019, and eventually proved the perfect fit as the Bulldogs starter.
The rest is college football history.
In 2021, Georgia won the College Football Playoff championship, defeating Alabama to claim Georgia’s first national title since 1980. Because of COVID-19’s impact on the 2020 season, the NCAA granted athletes an extra year of eligibility. So Bennett returned to Georgia and led the Bulldogs to a 15-0 record. He accounted for six touchdowns in a title-game rout of Texas Christian at SoFi Stadium, joining Nebraska’s Tommie Frazier, USC’s Matt Leinart and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron as the only quarterbacks to win consecutive national championships.
His long and winding road served him well, Bennett said.
“I’m pretty mentally tough,” he said. “I think you’ve got to be when you go through that journey like I did. … All those reps all those years and stuff have helped.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Bennett and Stafford are not the only former Georgia players on a Rams roster that includes second-year cornerback Derion Kendrick and rookie offensive lineman Warren McClendon, a fifth-round pick.
Kendrick played one season with Bennett at Georgia in 2021. Underestimate Bennett’s ability to rise to the occasion, Kendrick said, and be ready to be proved wrong.
“Everybody was counting him out — ‘He won’t do this, he won’t do that’ — and he just blocked it out, went out there and kept showing you game after game after game,” Kendrick said. “And what else can you do when he’s going out there and beating the Ohio States and beating up the Alabamas and Michigans?
“Like, what else can you say? Those are the best teams out there.”
The Rams collectively watched Bennett play for Georgia in last season’s CFP semifinal against Ohio State. As players and coaches dined together the night before their game against the Chargers, Bennett dueled with Buckeyes quarterback CJ Stroud.
“He just kept making throw after throw in a shootout game,” Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Robinson said of Bennett’s performance in the 42-41 victory. “You just always felt like he was going to make the next play, which is a pretty special trait to have as a quarterback.”
JW Jordan, the Rams’ director of draft management, said Bennett was more than a game manager simply handing the ball off to talented teammates.
“That’s what you think going in, so in a way it’s like you have to overcome your bias,” Jordan said. “But when you start watching him, you’re like, ‘Oh, he’s more than just like a cog in the wheel. He’s driving the bus.’”
The Rams dispatched Kellen Clemens, a former NFL quarterback, to meet with and evaluate Bennett before the draft. Bennett handled every situation and question, Clemens said, including when he was queried about his arrest last January in Texas on suspicion of public intoxication.
Bennett’s accountability about the incident satisfied a Rams organization already won over by his skill set and play in the Southeastern Conference and playoff games.
“Stetson obviously has … a lot of experience making big-time decisions, big-time throws in big-time games against a lot of guys that were drafted in the first and second rounds,” Clemens said.
Like all rookies, Bennett attempted during offseason workouts to navigate a new situation and master the playbook. And he showed talent and humility, teammates said.
“Two-time, national-champion quarterback — everybody knows who he is,” receiver Van Jefferson said. “But he’s working hard. … Even on film, you can see him in the background just going through and mentally preparing himself for that moment when he gets in.”
Running back Sony Michel, who won Super Bowl titles with the New England Patriots and Rams, informs Sean McVay he is retiring from the NFL.
Kupp noted Bennett’s big-game experience, field vision and mobility.
“He’s a pretty athletic dude,” Kupp said, before quipping, “so I think he’s definitely the most athletic quarterback from Georgia that we got on our team.”
Now that the Rams are preparing for the season, Bennett said there is much to improve.
Stafford will not play in preseason games, so Bennett and fifth-year pro Brett Rypien will have ample opportunity to impress McVay.
The Rams play the Chargers on Aug. 12 at SoFi Stadium, where Bennett capped his college career.
Bennett said he won’t rest on his laurels.
“It doesn’t matter what you did,” he said, “before you got here.”