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Don’t discount importance of Stetson Bennett, UGA’s No. 3 QB

Stetson Bennett-Georgia football-2019 signing class
Walk-on quarterback Stetson Bennett has proven to be a valuable asset for the Georgia Bulldogs during his short stint in Athens.

ATHENS — There are rumblings that Stetson Bennett may be leaving Georgia. I’ve confirmed that he’s at least thinking about it.

This probably will land on a lot of Georgia fans with a collective meh (insert emoji here), he being the team’s third-string quarterback and all. It shouldn’t.

Most Power 5 teams keep at least three quarterbacks on scholarship. All of them would if they could. By all accounts, the Bulldogs are trying to do that for Bennett, but that might not be enough to keep him. Word is Bennett wants to play, and who could blame him?

You see, Stetson Bennett isn’t your average, everyday third-stringer. There has been a buzz about Bennett ever since he arrived at UGA. Actually, before he got here. My old friend John DuPont was the first to bring him to my attention. DuPont, who used to do radio here in Athens, lives in Patterson, which is near Blackshear, where Bennett hails from. So he was watching Bennett every Friday night with the Pierce County Bears and making all these Fran Tarkenton-type plays with his arms and his legs.

“The kid’s incredible,” DuPont told me. “Georgia’s looking at him.”

Indeed, Bennett’s numbers — and his high school highlight reel in particular — were impressive. His senior season he completed 62 percent of his passes for 3,724 yards, 40 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He added another 490 yards and 6 scores running the ball.

Of course, I did like probably everybody else. I glanced at his recruiting profile and discounted him. It had him listed at 6-foot and 171 pounds and holding offers from two lower-tier FBS schools, an FCS team and an Ivy League program. It wasn’t a true snapshot, but nobody really took Bennett seriously as a “UGA prospect.”

Soon thereafter it surfaced that Bennett was a UGA legacy and a high-honors student, and he was joining the Bulldogs as a preferred walk-on. So his recruitment, such as it was, waned.

But the Legend of Stetson Bennett only grew after arriving in Athens, and that’s saying something when one’s role is limited to scout team. We first started to hear about him last fall. Georgia’s defenders talked about what a good look the freshman was giving them in preparation for all the dual-threat quarterbacks they faced.

The praise reached a fever pitch in the postseason. In the lead-up to the Rose Bowl and facing Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, third-round NFL draft pick Lorenzo Carter said Bennett made him “look silly sometimes” with his quickness and elusiveness. Roquan Smith said you couldn’t go to sleep on his arm either, “because he can sit in the pocket and throw.”

Then there was this from UGA defensive coordinator Mel Tucker: “Stetson Bennett’s a beast, man. He puts a lot of pressure on our defense because he is extremely quick, he’s fast and he can throw. He can throw in the pocket and he can throw on the run and he’s very, very competitive. He does a great job of giving us a look and it challenges our players. I’m glad we have him.”

They might not much longer.

UGASports.com reported Tuesday that Bennett met this week with coach Kirby Smart to advise him of his intent to transfer. Smart, as one would expect, tried to talk Bennett out of it and offered to put him on scholarship. That’s a significant gesture, considering how close the Bulldogs are to being maxed out on grants-in-aid.

Word is Bennett is back home in Blackshear weighing his options. While being on scholarship would be helpful to him and his family and would represent an achievement in and of itself, it doesn’t satisfy his main desire. That is to get on the field and compete against a true opponent.

For what it’s worth, I’m fairly certain that would happen for Bennett this season with the Bulldogs. Yes, Georgia’s quarterback position is in good hands with Jake Fromm and Justin Fields in the fold, and other quarterbacks are being vigorously recruited. But, this just in, quarterback play is important in football. You can’t have enough good ones.

There’s reason most NFL teams keep three quarterbacks on their 53-man rosters. No position takes more unprotected shots on the field. Injuries are prevalent, if not unavoidable. Look no further than Georgia last season. With Jacob Eason sidelined in Week 1, had Fromm left a game concussed or with a twisted knee or ankle or worse, the Bulldogs would have had to hand their offense over the Brice Ramsey — or perhaps Bennett. In 1977, Georgia went through five, believe it or not.

The same scenario is plausible this season. Oh, and by the way, fellow walk-on Sam Vaughn is moving on, we hear. And even if it doesn’t come to pass, the Bulldogs already have been outspoken about what Bennett meant to getting the defense ready every week. Then there’s the hundreds of pass-skeleton reps and drill work that quarterbacks do in practice with receivers and defensive backs. One can imagine how frustrating it might be for wideouts to get poor reps because the third and fourth quarterbacks can’t hit them on time and on target.

Then again, none of that allows Bennett to be the man in charge. There is no position in sport that expects more and demands more than the starting quarterback in football. Whether it’s at Pierce County, Samford University or with the Atlanta Falcons, there is only a small subset of human beings who possess the combination of smarts, athleticism and leadership it takes to effectively run an offense and truly want that responsibility.

Bennett does, or at least wants to see if he does. But whatever he decides, he already has proven his value to the Bulldogs.

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