untung99.biz: Stetson Bennett playing with house money as Georgia enters key twogame stretch with eyes on repeating

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Don’t ask Stetson Bennett what he would be doing without football this week of the Florida game. The calendar says the Georgia quarterback is in his sixth — and last — year of eligibility. His story has been chronicled more than “Friends” reruns. From walk-on to national championship quarterback with a side trip to a JUCO thrown in.

The NCAA usually allows athletes five years to play four. That was until 2020 when the association awarded every athlete an extra year of eligibility amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Bennett doesn’t want to consider where he’d be without that extra year — and without college football.

“Who knows?” he told CBS Sports this week. “That’s hard to say. Maybe working a job, going to school, trying in the [NFL].”

The question seemed to surprise Bennett, but there are scores of players on the field this season who would otherwise be out of eligibility if not for COVID-19. UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson recently realized his fortune.

“I couldn’t thank COVID enough, as sad as that sounds … for everything it’s done not for only me, but I really grew as a person [and] for my teammates and the growth it’s given this team,” DTR told CBS Sports in reference not to the pandemic itself but rather how circumstances created an opportunity for him to turn his career around. 

Oregon tight end Cam McCormick is living the life in his seventh year of eligibility. That makes him a bit of a living historian. He missed most of 2018-21 with season-ending injuries. In 2019, he had been granted a sixth and seventh year of eligibility by the NCAA. Then add in the 2020 COVID-19 year. When he scored earlier this season, he had gone five years between touchdowns. His entire career has consisted of 16 receptions in 23 games.

“Someone not as tough would have broke,” McCormick, now 24, told The Oregonian before the season. 

That toughness is shared by Bennett. In the spring of 2021, he was such an afterthought that he can’t remember taking a snap during spring practice.

“If I did, it was less than 10,” Bennett recalled. “If it was more than 10, it was less 15, and it was all with the [third team].”

Bennett stayed the course. When JT Daniels was injured, he was there not only to play but thrive. Kirby Smart found himself a backup who was efficient and didn’t turn the ball over.

This season has been pure joy as Bennett is playing with house money. He is following the best season of his career with the first full season of his career as a starter. This is his fourth Florida game but only his second as a starter.

“He has not changed in terms of the winning or the role,” Smart said. “He’s always been kind of a happy guy. He loves competing. He loves football. He’s in the spotlight more now.”

If Bennett flexed in that spotlight, he might never have to pay never pay for a meal again in Athens. But he loves the prospect of isolation. At least judging by his taste in cell phones.

The truth is that Bennett doesn’t give benefactors the chance to intervene most of the time.

“Usually, I can sit in the back and people don’t recognize me,” he said of going out to eat by himself.  “… I’ll put a hat on and look like every other dude that goes to school here.”

Part of his success is his steely calm. The grandson of former South Carolina quarterback Buddy Bennett, he was going to be a Dawg all his life. His parents in met in the Georgia College of Pharmacy. Reality intervened, and for most of his career, told him he wasn’t good enough.

When asked his status on national television the day after the College Football Playoff National Championship, Bennett remarked, “I’ll see if I can trust the decisions made by the staff.” That was cryptic, but it came as Georgia was reportedly recruiting over him by pursuing Caleb Williams in the transfer portal. 

Now, it’s OK to talk out loud about repeating. No. 1 Georgia has its flaws, but they haven’t resulted in losses. While Florida is a challenge in a rivalry game, the Dawgs are still prohibitive 22.5-point favorites, the largest in series history. Next week is an even bigger test on the road at No. 3 Tennessee. Should UGA get through that, No. 6 Alabama may await SEC Championship Game for the third time in five years.

As for that sixth year, Bennett is scheduled with graduate in May with an economics degree. His professional prospects are uncertain. For now, he is writing a thesis on Olympics infrastructure while cherishing this final year.

Bennett says he realized he was the man, the unabashed leader of the Dawgs, during winter conditioning.

“It’s weird. You look around, those guys who were up here last year are not here anymore,” he said. “Who’s it going to be? Out of necessity, you just start going about it that way.”

Maybe the only thing left to do is write a book …

“I’ve got football games still down the line,” he said.

… and cherish the moment.

“I think I’ve done a little bit more of that this go-round,” Bennett said. “It helps to just look at it and you know what this is a pretty lucky deal I’ve got myself out here.”