INGLEWOOD — This was for the dreamers, for the grinders, for those who were always told they were too small, didn’t have a strong enough arm, or weren’t five-star enough to draw a recruiter’s eye.
As Stetson Bennett IV sliced and diced TCU’s defense and delivered Georgia a second straight national title Monday night at SoFi Stadium in a 65-7 rout, it was worth a reminder. Bennett arrived on the Georgia campus as a walk-on in 2017, redshirted a year, transferred to a JC for a year, and then came back into an environment where he was never truly QB1 at the start of a season, until this one.
Remember that, young athletes, when things aren’t going the way you’d like or when your dream school seems like anything but a dream.
Georgia was Bennett’s dream school all along. His parents are both alumni, and he was the state of Georgia’s high school baseball player of the year but passed up a shot at a college baseball scholarship – admittedly, college baseball scholarships are nowhere near a full ride – because he wanted to play quarterback for the Bulldogs.
Even then, he almost signed with Louisiana Lafayette before deciding to walk on. Asked Monday night if he would have believed it then if someone had told him what would actually transpire, he said: “I wouldn’t believe them. … Good thing I signed with Georgia, you know?”
It was a meandering route, with a few detours. In the days before Monday’s game Georgia head coach Kirby Smart recalled when he learned Bennett was going to transfer to Jones (Miss.) College, a two-year school.
“I would point probably to the moment his mom and he came into my office and said he was leaving to go to junior college, and that he wanted to play and that he felt he was good enough to play and he wanted to go play,” Smart said. “And he knew there was no guarantee that he was going to play at our place the next season, but he knew he could play if he went to Mississippi.
“They sat in there with complete confidence. And I didn’t doubt him. I just didn’t know if (his future) was at Georgia. And that conviction they had when they sat in my office should have said, there’s something special about this guy.”
Bennett led Jones to a 10-2 record, ranked 12th in the NJCAA in passing yards and learned some things about himself.
“I think it was really important for me to go be the guy somewhere again,” he said. “Playing football is pretty much the only way you can get better at playing football, right? So to go be in that position where you are the starter, it comes down to you in certain situations. That taught me a lot. And fighting for a championship over there – you know, we didn’t end up winning it, but – it always teaches you something.”
He learned a lot, obviously – starting out behind D’Wan Mathis, and then USC transfer JT Daniels, and beating out both to not only become Georgia’s quarterback but a two-time national champion.
Did it occur to him that he might be an example for lots of other grinders out there? We still don’t know. We do know that whatever his future prospects as an NFL quarterback, the 25-year-old has already mastered the art of answering a question by … well, not answering the exact question that was asked.
“You know, I don’t know,” he said. “I think the coolest thing to me is in 20 years when this is cool to us, we all come back and we’re talking about how Bull (Javon Bullard) intercepted that ball before the half and I threw it to A.D. (Adonai Mitchell) for the touchdown.
“That’s the coolest thing, because this team loves each other. When Coach Smart says he’s never had a group like this … he’s right. We love each other. Every single person on this team would do anything for each other. And you know, it’s a special group, man.”
Later, asked again about the example he’d set, he said:
“When I was growing up, you know, you’ve still got to be the best. Right? Like it doesn’t matter if people doubt – you’ve got to be good. So I always used to – I enjoyed growing out my hair, wearing glasses, and then going and winning the camp. That was my thing.
“So if you are an under-recruited guy … soak that up, but you’ve still got to be the best. Go be spiteful out there. Be a dog. You’ve got to. But hopefully in 15 years there’s some kid out there who is being a stud and he remembers watching us play.”
And if he’s really a stud, maybe he, too, can pass for four scores and run for two more in a championship game or lead his team to points on eight of its first nine possessions, or tie a record for points for which he was responsible in the title game. Bennett accounted for 36 points Monday night, tying the record set by LSU’s Joe Burrow in 2020.
Is there a spot for him at the next level? One NFL scout told Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde that Bennett might have a chance as a backup.
“I don’t know,” Bennett said when asked about his future. “I’ve been here long enough. I’m sure there’s some game tape. I don’t know – hard worker, pretty good at football, smart. But they’ll see that. I don’t know. That will take care of itself.”
Hey, backup might be as good a place as any to start. After all, that’s how this journey started.