SEC Media Days: The fairy tale saga continues for Stetson Bennett

Jessica Gratigny | The Red & BlackUniversity of Georgia’s quarterback Stetson Bennett speaks to the press at the 2022 SEC Media Days in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday. The four-day event is held July 18-21 at the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame.

Wednesday continued this year’s SEC Media Days, a four-day event hosted in Atlanta. The event features a number of SEC football coaches and athletes, including Georgia’s own head coach Kirby Smart, Stetson Bennett and Nolan Smith.

One last go on the

merry-go-round

Senior quarterback Bennett had an opportunity to ride off into the sunset and fight for a spot on an NFL roster in 2022. However, he elected to stay in the red and black for one final season and compete against the tough talent in the SEC, but that was not his sole motivation for staying.

“I am secure enough [to admit this]:  I wouldn’t have gotten drafted high last year,” Bennett said. “So, what was the guarantee that I was going to go start in the NFL last year? Probably really low. For this next year, probably pretty low.”

“This is the best football conference in the country… I am here to compete against the best players,” Bennett continued. “You have the best players on your team, best coaches, in the smartest league. I think it is the biggest honor in the world to be able to go out there with a G on the side of my helmet, my name on the badge, looking across at my brothers and know we are playing for the University of Georgia, the State of Georgia and for Bulldog fans throughout the country.”

“So really, it wasn’t that tough of a decision. I love football. I love everything, and I love to compete,” Bennett concluded.

One more perk emerged for Bennett as his younger brother Luke Bennett signed with UGA as a preferred walk-on receiver. The elder Bennett has the opportunity to play with his younger brother because of the extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19.

“Being able to have that opportunity, it’s special,” Bennett said. “We are both super lucky. I know my mom is a big fan of it happening. Hopefully the stars align, and we can throw a pass to each other, but for right now, we are good just being on the same team.”

Quarterback/offensive coordinator connection

Bennett struggled in the series of matchups against rival Alabama, throwing five combined touchdowns in the two games against the Crimson Tide prior to the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship. However, he was still trusted to lead the Bulldogs to the hallowed land.

This speaks volumes to the trust that head coach Kirby Smart and the rest of his staff has for their starting signal caller.

“It’s what you do as a coach,” Smart said. “I go off how we practice, what guys show us in practice. I’d seen Stetson Bennett make those plays repeatedly in practice.”

“The conversation with Coach Monken was to be aggressive and go play to win the game,” Smart said. “You’re not going to hide behind your quarterback and win a national championship. You gotta go let him play.”

Offensive coordinator Todd Monken and Bennett have established a special connection with each other with Bennett playing behind center. 

“Whenever you spend three years in the same room and he’s coaching me every single day, you start to develop a sense of each other and can finish each other’s sentences,” Bennett said. “You start to know why he’s calling this play, you know what is he thinking here and that only comes through time.”

Regardless of the outside criticism that Bennett receives, the Georgia staff continues to believe in him, and that resulted in a national championship.

“When we control what we do and do it the right way, Stetson can be a major factor,” Smart said. “Look, Stetson is one of the least respected good players there is in this country. Guess what, we get to see it every day. The kid is a tremendous athlete, he’s got good arm strength. People keep doubting him, and that’s fine with me.”

Growth from taking the starting job 

Much of Bennett’s growth over the years has stemmed from his increased comfort level with the troops around him, as he referenced with Monken. 

“Just the reps with the guys, you know what they’re thinking on specific plays against different routes,” Bennett said when asked what’s different about this offseason as opposed to previous ones. “Repetition increases our confidence in each other”

Winning the starting job initiated this growth in comfort for Bennett. It created the supporting atmosphere for Georgia’s leader on the offensive side of the ball to succeed.

“Once he won the job, I think he created a little bit of momentum with our players, our skill players, because there’s not a doubt there,” Smart said. “They understand he knows the system. He can get them the ball. He can throw the ball vertically down the field, deep comebacks, he can scramble and make a play with his feet. I think they value that.”

According to Smart, Bennett has earned his credibility with the team with his play throughout the season and now in the offseason.

Printed with permission from the Red & Black independent student media organization based in Athens, Georgia; redandblack.com/sports

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