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Stetson Bennett acceptance speech shows what makes him great
Stetson Bennett was named a Heisman finalist last night. It marked the first time that a Georgia player has been a finalist for the award since Garrison Hearst did it back in 1992.
The honor says a lot about Bennett and his career to this point. It should — not that social media will ever allow this as many were upset that Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker did not receive an invite at Bennett’s expense— be seen as a celebration of Bennett’s career and achievements.
Related: Stetson Bennett releases classy statement on being a Heisman finalist amid social media outrage
But it’s the other award that Bennett received on Monday night that serves as a reminder of Bennett’s journey and perhaps best distills what makes him the person and player he is.
Bennett won the Burslworth Trophy, which is given to the nation’s top player who began his career as a walk-on. Past winners of the award include Clemson wide receiver Hunter Renfroe and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. Bennett — who first gained notoriety by imitating Mayfield in Rose Bowl practices for Georgia back in 2017 — is the first former walk-on to be a Heisman finalist since Mayfield won the award back in 2017.
The acceptance speech Bennett gave was not strictly a stand-up routine though. The Georgia quarterback was much more introspective when reflecting on his career to this point.
First and foremost, Bennett spoke about his love for football. When he was weighing his options after winning the national championship, many encouraged Bennett to move on from Georgia. Go out on top, they said. Really some fans were just ready for something different at the quarterback position for Georgia.
Hearing Bennett speak about the game lets you know moving on was never once an option for him.
“There’s a lot of hoopla and other stuff that goes into it but at its core it’s a pure sport and its beautiful. I love everything about it,” Bennett said. “I love being a walk-on because it allowed me to see it that. It allowed me to grow up a little bit.”
Of course, football does not always love you back. Bennett knows that better than anyone. He left Georgia in hopes of getting a scholarship offer to play somewhere. He did, ironically after Justin FIelds elected to transfer out of the same Georgia program. Had that not happened, Bennett would’ve played for Billy Napier at Louisiana-Lafayette.
But when Bennett came back to the place he loved, he was still buried behind Jake Fromm in 2019. Things were worse at the start of 2020, as he was behind JT Daniels, D’Wan Mathis and Carson Beck during preseason practice.
Bennett kept working and eventually led the Bulldogs to a come-from-behind win over Arkansas, Brandon Burlsworth’s alma mater. The trophy’s namesake was a walk-on like Bennett, who went on to become an All-American and eventual NFL draft pick.
Burlsworth, who tragically died in a car accident before getting to play in the NFL in April of 1999, and Bennett share the bond of being a walk-on and the struggles that come with that.
“Being a walk-on is not easy. Huge honor,” Bennett said of winning the award. “I feel like I do know Brandon a little bit just because we’ve been there man. Football, growing up it is the thing you’re the best at. It was the thing that you believed in. It was the thing you spent the most time doing. You thought you were pretty good in your hometown. And then you come to college and find out that this thing you said you’re the best at in the world, that you care about in the world, it ain’t good enough to play here.
“When people talk about Brandon and his legacy, it’s hard to remember that but I think it’s important too.”
Bennett was told he wasn’t good enough multiple times throughout his college career. Not just by college football fans, media members but even by the Georgia football coaching staff. He wasn’t good enough for a scholarship out of high school or after Jacob Eason transferred following the 2017 season.
He wasn’t good enough to start. Then he wasn’t good enough to keep the job from Daniels, who Bennett was benched for during the 2020 season.