Georgia Bulldogs QB Stetson Bennett is ready for more

ATHENS, Ga. — One day this summer, Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett knocked on an apartment door wearing a mock U.S. Postal Service uniform. He handed a package to a woman who answered the door.

“Hey, there you go,” Bennett told her. “This place is beautiful.”

“Excuse me, why is Stetson Bennett actually delivering our mail?” asked a man standing by the kitchen island.

“I deliver, that’s what I do,” Bennett told him.

Bennett, who helped Georgia win its first national title in 41 years with a 33-18 win over Alabama in January, is reaping the rewards of becoming a national hero.

Bennett enters his fifth season with the No. 3 Bulldogs, who started Saturday’s opener against No. 11 Oregon kicks off the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and as such is approaching nearly a million dollars in name, image and likeness deals to its NIL agent Jeff Hoffman of Everett Sports Management.

The Mailman sketch referenced above was actually a television commercial for a real estate development and investment management firm. He also has ZERO deals with an energy company, bank, clothing line, software company, chicken restaurant, trading cards, autograph memorabilia, and AARP (he turns 25 on October 28).

In one of his first NIL deals for Raising Cane’s, a nationwide fast-food chain, Bennett surprised hundreds of Georgia students by handing out chicken fingers and signing autographs in the drive-thru of an Athens restaurant. He joked with a client that his grand total was $33.18, referring to the result in the Bulldogs’ win over Alabama.

Bennett’s hometown of Blackshear, Georgia hosted a homecoming parade for him on January 30. He has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, appeared on Good Morning America, and flew with the US Navy’s Blue Angels at the Vidalia Onion Festival air show in Georgia, about three months after tearing up Bulldogs fans in Indianapolis.

Not bad for a former walk-on, who wore a US Postal Service hat at recruiting camps to draw attention to himself, who left Georgia for more playing time after one season and started the 2021 season as the Bulldogs’ third stringer.

“My life has become more public,” Bennett told ESPN this week. “You still feel like the same person. Everything you do is still pretty much the same. But the kid you were to everyone else has changed, which is weird. I’m just throwing a soccer ball.”

As Bennett heads into his sixth season of college football, he keeps it simple even as his life gets chaotic.

Bennett is still listed generously at 5 feet, 11 inches. He still weighs less than 200 pounds. Those are the same measurements that made him an easily recruited player at Pierce County High School in tiny Blackshear. A national recruiting service ranked him 2,569 in 2017. players in the country as a high school graduate.

That makes his story even more remarkable.

“He just won me over,” said Buck Belue, who was the last quarterback before Bennett to lead Georgia to a national title in 1980. “There were so few national titles, his name will always be remembered and the Bulldog will be respected by the people. That puts you in a small class of people, and I’m thrilled to have a little company. I have respect for the guy who can persevere and he has one of the best stories of perseverance we’ve ever seen.”

Georgia coach Kirby Smart recalls the first time he thought Bennett could lead his team to a national championship last season.

The No. 1 Bulldogs played on the road in Tennessee on Nov. 13, and the Volunteers found success against Georgia’s menacing defense. The score was 10 midway through the second quarter and the Bulldogs had a first goal at the UT 9.

Bennett, who became the starter after JT Daniels was injured against Vanderbilt on Sept. 25, took the snap and immediately rolled to the right on a naked bootleg. The play was designed for him to throw Kenny McIntosh back at the flat, but linebacker Aaron Beasley and defenseman Ja’Quain Blakely pounced on Bennett.

Instead of throwing, Bennett pocketed the ball and passed four Tennessee defenders to the end zone. Georgia would score again before halftime and roll to a 41-17 win.

“We didn’t block a guy, the guy ran in his face and he stuck his foot in the ground and pulled it up and just burst,” Smart said. “People don’t realize how tough and tough that game in Tennessee was for us on the road. You had an offense that can nullify your strength that was our defense.

“At that point people were like, ‘Oh, this is Tennessee, no big deal.’ I say: ‘Man, that was in a difficult environment against a team where we would need our offense.’ And he performed and did the plays.”

The Bulldogs won their next two games and finished the regular season undefeated. There was only one hiccup, an ugly 41-24 loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game. Georgia would rebound to defeat Michigan 34-11 in a college football playoff semifinals and then avenge its only loss to the Crimson Tide.

Suddenly, Bennett, who grew up dreaming of playing quarterback for the Bulldogs, was a national hero. He was the offensive MVP of the Orange Bowl and the CFP National Championship after throwing three touchdowns against the Wolverines and two in the fourth quarter against the Crimson Tide. It seemed like the perfect time for Bennett to leave the stage on the left – or maybe not.

“Why you do everything isn’t just the end for me,” Bennett said. “What I love so much about this sport is everything you do every day – the competition and struggle with yourself trying to get better, the friendships and the brotherhood with your teammates. There were considerations as to whether I should stay or not, but it wasn’t whether we won or not. It was never like, ‘Well, there’s nothing more we can do.'”

Before deciding to return, however, Bennett wanted reassurances from Smart and offensive coordinator Todd Monken that he would be given a fair shot at being the starter in 2022. After Bennett led the Bulldogs to the promised land, that seemed like an absurd uncertainty. But Bennett recalled starting the 2021 season as the third stringer behind starter Daniels and backup Carson Beck. He wanted to know where he stood with the coaches.

“I think he just wanted to know that we had his back and that he would be the guy and that it would be worth coming back,” Smart said. “He’s been through a lot of time here where he wasn’t getting reps, he wasn’t getting quality reps.”

Smart reminded Bennett that the coaches were behind him after the Bulldogs lost to Alabama in the SEC championship game. Bennett threw two interceptions, including a pick-six from safety Jordan Battle that gave Tide a three-touchdown lead early in the fourth quarter. Even though Bennett threw for 340 yards on three touchdowns — and the fact that Georgia’s vaunted defense handed Alabama 536 offensive yards — the quarterback drew criticism from some Georgia fans, who questioned if Bennett was good enough to beat the Tide.

“I think we proved it by staying with him after the first game in Alabama and standing by him for the last half of the season,” Smart said. “There were ups and downs in the season where he played really well against UAB and then not so well against South Carolina. And then it went up and down and up and down until he got into the groove and started and played. He might also get frustrated because he felt like he was the guy and he felt like he was better than [Daniels].”

For the first time in Bennett’s Georgia career, he took over the majority of first-team representatives in the offseason. He had so little action in practice ahead of the 2021 season that he almost decided to leave the Bulldogs again. He had transferred to Jones College in Mississippi after his freshman season before Georgia coaches persuaded him to come back after Justin Fields transferred to Ohio State after the 2018 season.

“For the first time in his entire career, he’s doing reps on the ones,” Smart said. “He’s the starter. He went through, I don’t know how many springs he’s been here, two or three where he didn’t go much with the A’s or the Two’s. And to go through a spring or an off-season as a starter and get that one rep, it’s been great for him. It has allowed us to have more continuity and a little more confidence. You didn’t have to keep changing parts, or this receiver likes this guy, and this tight end likes this guy, and all that s—. You don’t concern yourself with that when you get it.”

Another thing that’s changed for Bennett: His younger brother, Luke, is a clumsy freshman at Georgia. (Luke’s twin brother, Knox, is a baseball player at Chipola College in Marianna, Florida.)

The Bulldogs must replace 15 players selected in the NFL draft, including five first-round defensive players. With so many new faces on defense, Bennett may need to do even more than last season when he threw for 29 touchdowns and set a school record for passing efficiency (176.7). He was third among FBS players with an overall QBR of 86.7, behind only Ohio State’s CJ Stroud and Alabama’s Bryce Young.

Oregon coach Dan Lanning, who was Georgia’s defensive coordinator last season, knows what kind of quarterback the Ducks will face on Saturday.

“Stetson exudes confidence, right? He’s a really confident player,” Lanning said this week. “He knows what he knows, he’s very intelligent. There isn’t a throw he doesn’t feel he can’t make and obviously he’s an elusive one. They know when he’s in the bag and how to move and play.”

For that small segment of Georgia fans who may still believe the Bulldogs won everything because of their defense and despite their quarterback, Bennett can start trying to prove them wrong against the Ducks.

“People ask, ‘Are you playing with a chip on your shoulder?'” Bennett said. “If yes, then there is this question [turns into] a question. If this guy can only be Superman when everyone thought he couldn’t be, what happens when everyone thinks he can? Can he have that extra benefit?

“For better or for worse, I really don’t care what other people have to say,” Bennett said. “It all comes from within because for me I know what it feels like and I know what it looks like to be good and I want to be that. Myself, my teammates, we’re not trying to shut up doubters to prove everyone wrong. I take it as it comes. I wake up and try to be better than the day before.

And that’s probably way better than anyone ever thought Bennett would be.

https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/34502659/georgia-bulldogs-qb-stetson-bennett-ready-more Georgia Bulldogs QB Stetson Bennett is ready for more

Emma Bowman

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