Stetson Bennett (and his mom) are Living the Dream
I have been intrigued with Stetson Bennett since he was assigned the task of imitating Baker Mayfield during Georgia's Rose Bowl preparation in 2017. According to the Georgia players, Stetson was harder to defend than Baker turned out to be.
We all know the story by now. Wanting playing time, the former UGA walk-on transferred to Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, MS where he played for one year before returning to Georgia as a scholarship athlete in 2019.
Hollywood could not have scripted the drama that has surrounded the quarterback position at UGA over the past ten months. Jake Fromm chose to depart early for the NFL, Jamie Newman transferred in as a graduate transfer from Wake Forest, Mr. Football for the state of Florida, Carson Beck, signed with the Dogs, joining Newman, Ohio State transfer D'Wan Mathis and, of course, Bennett in the Bulldog quarterback room, and then, lo and behold, J.T. Daniels transferred to Georgia from Southern Cal.
Without benefit of spring practice and limited throughout summer workouts by the ongoing pandemic, the widespread assumption was that Newman would be "The Man" when and if the season got underway and national prognosticators lauded him as the best available addition at the QB position. Stetson Bennett was presumed to be the number 5 QB on the Georgia depth chart.
Then, lo and behold, just days before Georgia was set to open the season at Arkansas, Jamie Newman up and quit the team. I think the modern term is "opted out of the season," but what he did, nonetheless, was quit the team.
Rumors began flying that he left Athens because A) J.T. Daniels was about to beat him out. B) D'Wan Mathis was about to beat him out. C) He had a bad attitude and didn't get along with Todd Monken.
Whatever. He was gone. Next man up. But who would the next man be? Most assumed it would be Daniels, because of all the experience he brought with him. Except as the season opener approached, J.T. could not seem to be cleared medically, ramifications of a torn ACL suffered in the first game of 2019.
Enter D'Wan Mathis in Fayetteville. Enter an ineffective D'Wan Mathis.
Facing an Arkansas team that, at the time, was in the midst of a 19-game conference losing streak, Georgia's offense was dead in the water. After six series they had scarcely moved the ball at all and everyone was looking to the sidelines, wondering if and when Kirby Smart would make a change.
Nobody expected the change that he did make.
Well, maybe two people did. Maybe Stetson Bennett did. And maybe, just maybe, so did his mama. I caught up with his mother this week and had a delightful time hearing her side of the whole Stetson for Quarterback saga.
Now understand. Denise Beasley Bennett bleeds Dawg Red. A graduate of the University of Georgia school of Pharmacy, Denise lives a busy life, running the two pharmacies she owns in Blackshear and Nahunta and shepherding Stetson's younger brother, Maverick to middle school cross country events, his sister, Olivia, to softball and his twin siblings, Knox and Luke, to high school football. Plus attending Georgia games, home and away, near and far.
"It was an adventure," she told me, "just getting to Fayetteville, Arkansas. We met Stet's girlfriend in Atlanta and flew to Tulsa and rented a car and then drove to Fayetteville. (Luckily, they didn't have the flat tire on the rental car until AFTER the game, on the way back to Tulsa, but that's another story for another day.)
I learned that it is easy to find Denise at Georgia games. She is the good-looking lady in the red number 13 jersey with MOM on the back, sitting with the other parents.
"I knew that Stetson was listed as the number 2 QB going into the game," she told me, "but that really didn't mean that I knew he would get to play. It's always the coach's decision and I kept watching the sideline and saw that he was warming up, but Carson (Beck) had on his helmet and was warming up beside him and nobody knew if either of them would get in the game."
But get in the game Stetson did, and when opportunity knocked, he made the most of it, energizing the Georgia offense and showing great leadership and athleticism in leading them to a 37-10 come-from-behind victory, on the road—in the conference.
"It was so much fun," Denise told me. "Just watching your son do what he loves to do and get that chance is wonderful, and then all the texts and e-mails and everything, it was great. But mainly, it was great seeing Stet do what he loves to do."
Stetson's mom was very gracious to give me a peek inside their private lives and I learned that Stetson's whole family looks at him as a leader. "When he's home, the other kids just look up to him and respect him so much. He's the oldest, of course, and he's just so much fun and he's well-read and quick-witted and smart. He's an economic major and has worked so hard. I was just so happy for him because he was so happy. This is what he has worked so hard for."
Honesty compels me to admit that I, personally—not Denise Bennett, but me, the good-looking guy in the red shirt—was very irritated as I watched and listened to the media all last week. They completely discredited Number 13's accomplishments and everyone I listened to assumed that he would receive a pat on the back and a "Be ready, but . . ." and be relegated to bench duty again while J.T. Daniels was handed the starting job. The game day crew even announced as much to its national audience.
"Coach Smart told Stet on Monday that he was going to start against Auburn and so I knew," Denise told me, "but of course I couldn't or wouldn't say anything, but it was a thrill seeing him start and play well."
He played well, indeed, and now, after two games, Stetson Bennett IV has completed 37 of 57 passes for 451 yards and 3 TDs, without an interception, and has an impressive QB rating of 94.4—second in the country. He will lead his team into battle against the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday.
It's a long season and if we have learned anything in the year 2020 it is that nothing is certain, but this scribe is pulling hard for Stetson Bennett to go all the way. For his sake, for Georgia's sake and for the sake of the lady in the red jersey with the number 13 and MOM on the back.
Darrell Huckaby is an author, educator and syndicated newspaper columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.