untung99.biz: Stetson Bennett proved Georgia coaches and the public wrong Man theres no way thats not good

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“It’s funny. I don’t really know the kind of people who want to win a national championship just so they don’t buy another drink again. That’s silly to me. I don’t think I’d be in this position if that’s what I was going for. I’m here to play football for the University of Georgia. And then, like you did, once that’s over, whatever my interests will be. Which is hard when you’re playing college football because you don’t get internships. You don’t get all that stuff. You don’t get the time off that other students get. But once that is over with — I’m majoring in economics — I’d like to go to law school.

“For the next year, I’m going to play football. I’ve got a decent amount of years. Hopefully I live until at least 80. So we’ll say 60 years to not play football. I’m going to play football this year. We’ll see where. We’ll see if I can trust the decisions that are made by the staff and see where I’m going to play. But right now I’m enjoying this national championship. The next part? Who knows? I really couldn’t care less about a free drink.”

— Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett, who appeared to have had several drinks — be they free or purchased — in the hours before NFL star-turned-“Good Morning America” host Michael Strahan asked him what would come next during an interview the morning after Georgia beat Alabama for the national title.

Look at that damn quote.

When Strahan asked the question, maybe he expected Bennett to take the easy route, to yell, “I’m going to Disney World!” and the pluck off his lavaliere mic, spike it and either return to the party or find a bed and sleep the sleep of the righteous. Instead, the answer was a tour de force.

It starts with Stetson Bennett laying waste to the obvious stereotype. Our natural reaction to a former walk-on who grew up in Blackshear, Ga., leading the by-God Georgia Bulldogs to their first national title since 1980 is, of course, “He’ll never have to buy a drink in that state again.” Bennett basically points out in the most polite way possible that the kind of person who wants to win a national title just for the lifetime open bar tab would run away screaming midway through one of Georgia strength coach Scott Sinclair’s offseason workouts.

After that, Bennett discusses a future law career. He estimates his own life span. He declares his intention to play college football in 2022. He does not promise it will be at Georgia.

Wait, what?

If you’ve watched Bennett since he entered the game at Arkansas in 2020 in his first significant game action, you know that from that moment through that national title game in January 2022, the search was on for a better alternative to Stetson Bennett IV. It was obvious to everyone. So imagine how it felt to Bennett. That’s why, in that moment, no one in charge begrudged whatever simmered inside Bennett on a day everyone in red and black was celebrating.

“Although he was drunk, he was right in a lot of ways in terms of what it was going to be like,” Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken cracked before last week’s Peach Bowl, where Bennett threw for 398 yards and three touchdowns to lead Georgia to its second consecutive national title game and elevate his own personal story from Hallmark Channel movie to Disney blockbuster.

Bennett had every right to question whether Georgia’s coaches believed in him as the starter. On that particular day? Maybe they still didn’t — in spite of the evidence he’d amassed in 12 starts during the 2021 season. That’s why, when asked last week about the obstacles Bennett has overcome to reach this point in his career, Georgia coach Kirby Smart said this:

“He overcame us.”


Stetson Bennett: The Athletic’s College Football Person of the Year

An alternate college football universe where Bennett led Georgia to a national title in 2021 and then played for Ole Miss or Virginia Tech wouldn’t be nearly as fun. Fortunately, the doubts disappeared within Georgia’s football building.

Bennett met with Smart shortly after the national title win and asked the coach pointed questions. At some point before spring practice, everyone seemed clear that Bennett was Georgia’s best option at quarterback even though three players beneath him on the depth chart were each ranked No. 17 (Brock Vandagriff, Class of 2021), No. 124 (Gunner Stockton, Class of 2022) and No. 250 (Carson Beck, Class of 2020) in the nation by 247Sports as high schoolers. (Bennett was ranked No. 2,569 in the Class of 2017.)

This past season, Bennett proved repeatedly that he wasn’t merely a placeholder tabbed to distribute a football to future NFL stars. He was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, and even those who believed he didn’t deserve the trip to New York must admit that at the very least, Bennett is an outstanding college quarterback. Oh, and he’s probably going to have to put law school on hold because he’s good enough to make an NFL roster, too.

“He’s been even better this year,” Monken said.

Now, the quarterback who had to repeatedly fight off blue-chip recruits and his own coaches for the job he currently commands will play his final college game against TCU in SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. Bennett won’t earn a single free drink with a win because, even though it was a stereotype, he probably will drink free in Georgia forever for helping break that particular curse.

But Bennett’s story could get even better.

Bennett, pictured in 2019, came and went from Athens, Ga., before returning for a legendary run. (Photo: Dale Zanine / USA Today)

“My boy was a walk-on and earned his scholarship. He left Georgia, and they called my boy back to come back,” Georgia tailback Kenny McIntosh said of Bennett. “That doesn’t happen. You’ve got to be a special kind of breed.”

Here’s what McIntosh means.

There are two kinds of walk-ons. The first is what Clemson coach Dabo Swinney — himself a former Alabama walk-on receiver — calls a “crawl-on.” (Swinney counts himself in this category, though his playing time on a national title team suggests he belonged in the group described next.) These are the players who were not invited to join a college roster based on what they did in high school. When they do make the team through an open tryout, they arrive on the practice field, look around, and say to themselves, “I am obviously a member of an inferior species compared to these perfectly-constructed blocking, tackling, catching and running organisms.”

The second is the walk-on who had a chance to play on scholarship somewhere else but chose to walk on because he knew he could play at a higher level than his offer list suggested. This was Bennett, who might have had a momentary flash of doubt when he arrived on Georgia’s practice field in 2017 but who probably felt that doubt disappear within a few days as he realized he could hold his own with everyone his own age.

Bennett famously played Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (a famous two-time walk-on) during Georgia’s preparation for the Rose Bowl following the 2017 season. But, knowing he was good enough to play at the FBS level, Bennett transferred to Jones College in Ellisville, Miss., to get some tape as a starter. He led Jones to a 10-2 record and committed to play for Billy Napier at Louisiana. But on the first day of the Class of 2019 early signing period in December 2018, Bennett awoke to missed calls from Smart and then-offensive coordinator James Coley.

They wanted him to come back to Athens — on scholarship.

As McIntosh pointed out, that simply doesn’t happen. It especially doesn’t happen at a school where every other quarterback signee since Smart arrived has been at least a four-star recruit. One such recruit was D’Wan Mathis, who signed in the same class in which Bennett made his return to Athens as a scholarship player. Neither player dreamed of unseating Jake Fromm in 2019. Top Class of 2018 recruit Justin Fields had left for Ohio State when it became clear Fromm would start as a junior.

After Fromm went pro, the job opened. But Georgia coaches dipped into the transfer portal and signed Wake Forest’s Jamie Newman. Then they added former five-star recruit J.T. Daniels, who had been beaten out by Kedon Slovis at USC.

Newman was supposed to start in 2020, but he opted out during preseason practice. Daniels, who arrived with an injured knee, wasn’t yet medically cleared. That left Mathis and Bennett — although no one gave Bennett much of a chance. Predictably, Mathis won the starting job heading into the season opener at Arkansas. Georgia trailed 7-2 in the second quarter, and the offense felt stuck. After Mathis dropped a snap and took a 17-yard loss on a sack, Smart had seen enough. He had Monken switch to Bennett.


Another secret to Georgia’s 2022 success: Less-heralded recruits

If Bennett looked cool as he led the Bulldogs to a 37-10 win by completing 20-of-29 passes for 211 yard with two touchdowns and no interceptions, it was an incredible acting job.

“I couldn’t grip the ball that day. I was freaking out. Nerves,” Bennett said. “It was my first Georgia football game. I was as nervous as could be. But then I just said. ‘All right, let’s go play football. You’ve played a lot of football. Just go throw it to the open guy.’ That’s all you got to do.”

What Bennett didn’t realize is that there are only a handful of people capable of just throwing it to the open guy in the SEC. It is much more difficult than he made it look that day.

Later that season, Bennett learned exactly how difficult on a three-interception night against eventual national champion Alabama. Then, while throwing a touchdown pass to put Georgia up 14-0 against eventual SEC East champion Florida, Bennett got crushed by safety Rashad Torrence and sprained the AC joint in his throwing shoulder. Bennett tried to keep playing, but he was never the same and the Gators rolled to a 44-28 win.

Daniels, finally healthy, started the next week against Mississippi State and kept the job the rest of the season. The following offseason, everyone in Athens knew an elite defense would give the Bulldogs a chance to win the national title. There wasn’t much of a quarterback competition. Daniels, the five-star who was promised, was ready to become the first quarterback since Buck Belue to take Georgia to a national title. The only question was whether Bennett or Beck would be the backup.

That question wouldn’t be settled until the second week of the season. Clemson’s defense had battered Daniels in a 10-3 Georgia win, and that beating had aggravated an oblique injury suffered in camp. Daniels couldn’t play against UAB the following week, so Georgia coaches had to decide between Beck and Bennett.

The day before the game, Bobby Ramsay — who had coached Beck at Mandarin High in Jacksonville, Fla. — told the Athens Banner-Herald that his understanding was that Beck had won the competition and would start against the Blazers. That wasn’t the case.

The week was strange for Monken, a veteran coordinator who had run the offense for Oklahoma State and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and who had once been head coach at Southern Miss. A full-on quarterback competition during a game week doesn’t happen often.

“You rarely have that situation where you’re giving guys equal reps,” Monken said. As the week wore on, Georgia coaches knew which player they had to choose. “Stetson played his ass off during the week,” Monken said. Reminded of the reports at the time, Monken cleared up confusion that has lingered for more than a year.

“With Stetson, it wasn’t close,” Monken said. “It was obvious.”

Bennett completed 10-of-12 passes for 288 yards and five touchdowns in a 56-7 win. It was a taste of exactly how explosive Georgia’s offense could be with Bennett at the helm.

“It gave me some nuts,” Bennett said.

Initially, Bennett figured the statline was “an outlier,” a level of efficiency he’d never reproduce. Video of the game suggested otherwise. “The biggest thing was when I went back and watched the tape I could see my motion,” Bennett said. “Yeah, that was what I was working on. That’s what I wanted to do, and it showed up.”

Bennett and Smart (left) had a long discussion about the quarterback after Georgia won the national championship last season. (Photo: John David Mercer / USA Today)

Talk to Bennett for any length of time and it becomes clear he believes his own eyes. What frustrated him was when others couldn’t (or can’t) see the same thing, even when it felt plain as day. Even as he led Georgia to a national title last season, it felt as if everyone kept looking for reasons to go back to Daniels, or to choose one of the higher-rated recruits for 2022.

“I’d always make these throws, like one, or two, and I’d be like, ‘Man, there’s no way that’s not good.’ I’d keep hearing people tell me that I’m not good, but that looked good,” Bennett said. “And I’d look at it and be, ‘Am I dumb?’ I didn’t think so. If I can do it once, I can do it all the time. It’s just a motion. I don’t want to sound like a nerd or smarter than I am, but gravity works. Physics works.”

Bennett mastered gravity and physics more in 2022 than he ever had before. He’s tied for eighth in the nation (with national title game counterpart Max Duggan) in yards per attempt at 8.9. He raised his completion percentage from 64.5 last season to 68.1 this season. And when the Bulldogs needed the player nicknamed The Mailman to deliver against a roster as talented as theirs on New Year’s Eve in Atlanta, he came through — though not before he got a reminder to gunsling responsibly.

As Bennett jogged off the field at halftime with the Bulldogs trailing the Buckeyes 28-24, Smart caught up with him and issued a warning. Ohio State had blazed 75 yards for a touchdown to retake a lead Georgia had held for only 55 seconds. With 49 seconds remaining in the first half, Bennett wanted that lead back. But his first pass was batted down by future superstar edge rusher J.T. Tuimoloau on a play that looked eerily similar to one that ended with Tuimoloau intercepting a Sean Clifford pass and returning it for a touchdown at Penn State.

On the next play, Bennett ripped a throw over the middle, too high for receiver Ladd McConkey to catch but low enough for McConkey to tip into the hands of Ohio State defensive back Cameron Brown. Fortunately for Bennett, Brown dropped what might have been a pick-six. Coaches ordered Bennett to take a knee on the next play, and Smart tracked down his quarterback on the edge of the field.

“If we’re going to trust you to do this in (the) two minute, you’ve got to make good decisions,” Smart recalled telling Bennett. “If it’s not there, take off and run.”

This level of foreshadowing means that of course the Bulldogs needed Bennett to throw them to victory in the two-minute offense in the fourth quarter.

They got the ball at their own 28 with 2:36 remaining. They trailed by six. Bennett completed all five passes he threw for 67 yards. The last was this 10-yard touchdown strike to A.D. Mitchell with 54 seconds remaining.

Bennett will head to Los Angeles to write the final chapter of his Georgia career. It almost certainly won’t be the final chapter of his football career. Monken, who in addition to a long career in college football has spent seven seasons working for three different NFL franchises, believes Bennett can win a roster spot for years. Even if Bennett doesn’t become a starter in the NFL, Monken believes coaches will want Bennett on the roster because he understands the game so well that he can perform with minimal practice reps. This has produced long careers for quarterbacks such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Johnson and Chase Daniel. It’s why Baker Mayfield could arrive in Los Angeles on a Tuesday and lead the Rams to a win against the Raiders on a Thursday.


Emerson: Georgia’s unplanned journey back to national title favorite

“You create value by being able to play and not take reps,” Monken said. “Everyone will say ‘Well, they played the backup this week because in practice they saw something.’ Backups don’t get any reps. I don’t know what they’d see in practice besides running a card. They just make a decision.”

And while Bennett may have told Strahan he hoped to attend law school, that isn’t happening until after Bennett exhausts all his options as a professional thrower of the football.

“I will not be making the call to cut off my football career unless (a) leg gets cut off early,” Bennett said. “That will be someone else’s call.”

Bennett plans to enjoy the ride, wherever it takes him. He promised himself that after the winning the national title last year. “Two weeks after I’m sitting in a math class and I’m like, ‘Oh so it doesn’t change. It’s life. It keeps going on,’” he said. “And I was so grateful to realize that then instead of working at a job for 40 years to reach that goal and reaching that goal when I’m 63 and being like ‘crap.’ Yeah, you’re going to have to work. But it’s not about the championships or the gravy at the end of the journey. It’s about the journey.”

This leg of that journey will end in the second week of 2023 with Bennett wearing silver britches and a G on the side of his helmet. At the end of the 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021 seasons, he probably wouldn’t have believed that possible. But his path took a lot of twists.

“How can you have stories if you end up exactly where you wanted to go, following the exact plan you wanted to go?” Bennett said. “That’s life, man. It’s a lot more interesting that way.”

(Top photo: Todd Kirkland / Getty)