Stetson Bennett's story is the stuff of Hollywood to everyone except Stetson Bennett
Someone forgot to hand Stetson Bennett IV the script to his own movie.
The Netflix synopsis: With an entire town behind him, a South Georgia kid spurns scholarship offers to walk on at his dream school. When things don’t go as planned, he spends a year in Mississippi finding himself in hopes of a triumphant resurgence.
The lack of stars next to his name and his place on the depth chart heading into this season would seem to cast Bennett as an underdog.
There’s just one problem: If Georgia’s starting quarterback views himself that way, he’s not letting on whatsoever.
“It’s not really my job to worry about that,” Bennett said Saturday night after leading the Dawgs to a 27-6 victory over Auburn in his first career start. “If you think of things that broad or think about I was starting first game, GameDay, Top 10 matchup, you’re going to be like, ‘oh my goodness.’
“But no. I just go out every day and just play football.”
Ironically, that same poise, candor and self-confidence — combined with some good luck — is what’s led Bennett from the Forgotten One to the Chosen One in Athens during a matter of weeks.
But the tale starts much sooner than that, in Blackshear, Georgia. The town of about 3,500 in Georgia’s southeast corner is about halfway between Valdosta and Brunswick, and it’s where Stetson Fleming Bennett IV grew into an all-state high school football player at Pierce County High.
He wasn’t recruited heavily, but he wanted to play at UGA. Both of Bennett’s parents graduated from there, and his grandfather Buddy played quarterback at South Carolina.
Next comes the cute part of the story where our protagonist pays his dues on the scout team for a year.
“He went like 20-for-20 on us in a practice,” Georgia defensive lineman Malik Herring said, “so we knew always knew he was a great quarterback.”
But after that 2017 campaign, a fella by the name of Justin Fields entered the picture. With Fields and fellow blue-chippers Jake Fromm and Jacob Eason all in the mix, Bennett saw the writing on the wall.
It’s at this point a character in Bennett’s position — especially during this transfer-happy era — typically leaves and never comes back. Eason left. Fields eventually left.
Bennett left, too, and admits he never thought he’d return. But when coach Kirby Smart offered him a scholarship out of Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Mississippi, Bennett decided to give his aspirations another crack.
Crazily, he found himself in the same situation this offseason, just different names — Jamie Newman, JT Daniels and D’Wan Mathis were all ahead of him in the pecking order. That meant Bennett didn’t get many opportunities this preseason after serving as Fromm’s primary backup last year.
Newman was brought in to start, Smart said. Daniels was there to push him, with Mathis waiting in the wings. One could argue that even freshman Carson Beck was ahead of Bennett at one point in August.
A Newman opt-out, a Daniels delay in return from a knee injury and a rough debut for Mathis later, look at Bennett now.
The 5-11, 190-pound junior speaks with the air of someone with a chip on his shoulder but is intent on not letting you see it. He doesn’t say it; he shows it.
It’s like Bennett knows the part he’s supposed to play but didn’t get here by just going along with convention. During a time when the sport’s top athletes can be prone to pampering and moving on when they don’t get their way, he operates with a persistent defiance — kind of like the 1920s-era bootleggers who are reportedly part of the Bennett family tree.
“I’m sure everybody back home was probably enjoying that, yeah,” Bennett said after throwing for 240 yards against Auburn. “It was pretty cool.”
It also all but pulled the plug on Georgia’s 2020 quarterback carousel. “Right now, he’s the guy,” Smart said before a diatribe that ended with him admitting he and offensive coordinator Todd Monken should have taken a harder look at Bennett.
“I think what’s unique about Stetson is the guy handled everything the right way,” Smart said. “As coaches, we’ve got to look ourselves in the face. I’m charged with making decisions. Some people could probably argue that maybe we didn’t make the right decision in the first game and maybe he should’ve been the guy.
“He didn’t get a lot of opportunities, and to be honest with you, he didn’t cry, pout, leave, transfer, do anything, have his parents call. He didn’t do any of that. He just kept working and working and working and then when he got an opportunity, he took advantage of it.”
How many FBS coaches have you ever heard so much as entertain the notion they might have made the wrong decision about their starting quarterback?
“Stetson’s never lacked confidence in himself,” Smart said. “I’m happy for him. I want to temper that enthusiasm because he knows he’s got to get better.”
Indeed, there are better throws to be made and bigger stages to tackle, starting Saturday against No. 14 Tennessee and ramping up to 11 against Alabama the following week.
But the No. 1 question about Georgia’s SEC title and College Football Playoff hopes now has an answer. It ends with a Roman numeral.
Running back Zamir White says Bennett is a “natural baller.” Teammates call him the Mailman because he used to wear a U.S. Postal Service hat to recruiting camps. He’s become somewhat of a social media darling with observers comparing his name to a law firm, a men’s retail brand or a stockbroker.
But at the end of the day, “Stetson Bennett IV” stands all on its own.