Georgia QB Stetson Bennett begins to leave his mark
If a biographer were to compile a definitive tome on Georgia quarterback, Stetson Bennett, IV, the author could not escape the heartwarming thread that confirms this magnifique throwback is as atypical for the times as a South Georgia terrapin without a shell.
This is a kid whose love of football is unparalleled. He walked-on where his heart has always been. He could have played elsewhere, but his goal has always been to flourish between-the-hedges. The fight song that is most apropos for him is, “I want to go back to Athenstown,” which he has been doing since he wore short pants. He came to campus knowing that his connection with the National Football League would be network television on any given Sunday. He walked on, wanting to play for the glory to old Georgia.
For his buddies who will grab a slice of the play-for-pay largesse, more power to them—he enrolled to play for his beloved Dawgs, earn a degree and return to his South Georgia roots where he will live out his life as a contributor to his community, become an adoring alumnus and live happily ever after. At least, one could forecast that likelihood.
Stetson, whose head would never fit the ten-gallon hat that corresponds to his given name, has aspired to be the Georgia quarterback since he was three years old. He was a versatile and accomplished athlete in his formative years. Also in high school at Pierce County High in Blackshear. He had talent, there were athletic gifts, but he didn’t run with the wind and leap tall buildings in a single bound. He wasn’t the prototype quarterback everybody is looking for today, but he has persevered. He has kept the faith. His heart would overflow any ten-gallon hat, however, and that is a much a part of his story as his singular intelligence which sets him apart. He scored a 30 on his ACT, which suggests that few quarterbacks have had a greater compatibility with the playbook. His academic success got the attention of Harvard and Yale when he was being recruited.
A former Bulldog quarterback with abundant credentials, one who well knows about such critiques as “not tall enough, not fast enough, not a rocket arm,” has taken note of Stetson’s intangibles. “I like the way he reads defenses and runs the team,” says Fran Tarkenton, an NFL Hall of Famer. I like his competitiveness and feel for the game.”
Stetson takes his coursework at the Terry College of Business as seriously as he does developing a nose for the goal line. His scrambling for the pylon against Tennessee in the 2nd quarter Saturday is the essence of this grandson of Buddy Bennett who played at South Carolina and enjoyed a successful coaching career as a college assistant at Tennessee, Georgia Tech, South Carolina and other locales where football passion is enduring. Buddy taught Stetson how to make defenders miss in the open field.
His doting father, Stetson III, who holds a pharmacy degree from the University of Georgia, worked 12-hour shifts at Publix Pharmacy. That meant that he worked seven out of 14 days, which gave him extra time to spend with his son on his multipole days off.
They practiced drills that would enhance hand-eye coordination. Like the father tossing sweet-gum balls to Stetson IV who slapped them about with a small utility pipe as a bat. The younger Stetson was the sweetgum batting champion of Pierce County. When he didn’t have a bat or a ball in his hands, there was a book. He is remembered by many of his classmates for bumping into them in the hallways of the schoolhouse while walking and reading.
He could not be raised in South Georgia and not develop an affinity for the outdoors. He can knock down a pair of quail on a covey rise with the same aplomb you see him connecting with a wide out over the middle in a third and long situation.
With his family buying season tickets since 1996, the son had the experience that many before him have had. He tossed a ball in a campus parking lot before Bulldog games—the East Campus railroad lot—before walking into Sanford Stadium and cozying up to its famous hedges. The difference is that he was the one who grew up to fulfill his life-long dream of becoming the starting UGA quarterback between those famous hedges.
The family followed the Bulldogs to places like Tempe and Boulder along with the well-known venues, such as Columbia, Knoxville, Nashville, Auburn, Oxford and Lexington—but not Jacksonville and Baton Rouge. You see, his churchgoing family was not keen on a precocious son being exposed to what they considered a “den of iniquity,” atmosphere at those two addresses.
With his father, Stetson III, having grown up in the football first community of Jesup, there were frequent trips to this timber and agri-business enclave. He learned about the legend of Jesup’s high moments in sports where former Georgia halfback and later coach of repute, John Donaldson, coached his grandfather, Buddy Bennett. Every August, Jesup expected to end up in the playoffs. The community knew what it was like to beat Valdosta, the football kingpin in the state, and to win state championships.
Stetson often enjoyed lunch at Sybil’s, once a bastion of vegetable cooking which became a favorite spot of Len Hauss, the Jesup fullback-turned-center who was a 14-year starter with the Washington Redskins, playing in five pro bowls and seeing his name displayed on the façade of Fed-X Field as a member of the Redskins Ring of Fame.
Stetson was familiar with the redbreast fishing in the 137-mile long Altamaha River, pronounced “Altamahaul” by locals. He became addicted to “Friday Night Lights.” He knew about traffic being compromised by pulpwood and log trucks and probably knows that the town was named for an Army General, Thomas Sidney Jesup.
He enjoys his role, as David, in a game of Goliath’s because he is living the dream of starting for Georgia between the hedges which he first saw when he was in grade school.
His story is a feel good story to top all feel good stories, but as his modesty warrants, he would suggest nobody go overboard just yet. There is a lot of unfinished business remaining. He is aware and up for the challenge.