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Stetson Bennett shrugs off critics, Kirby Smart ‘fine’ with people doubting Georgia quarterback

072022 Atlanta: Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett is all smiles reacting to a question at SEC Media Days in the College Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis Compton@ajc.com”

ATLANTA — Kirby Smart embraces any lack of respect for Stetson Bennett, to the point he waved it around like a red flag in front of a bull at SEC Media Days.

“Stetson is one of the least respected good players there is in this country,” Smart said at the College Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday.

“The kid is a tremendous athlete he’s got good arm strength. People keep doubting him, and that’s fine with me.”

Smart claims the early identity of his 2022 team is it’s “hungry,” and he’ll surely continue looking for bits and pieces of disrespect to feed the Bulldogs via the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall billboard.

RELATED: Preseason Stetson Bennett chatter meaningless, scoreboard will tell story

Bennett isn’t among the preseason All-Americans or top NFL Draft prospects.

But the fact the 24-year-old South Georgia product was named MVP of the Orange Bowl and CFP Championship Game last season undercuts the narrative he does not receive credit.

Indeed, where disrespect is concerned, it is worth noting Billy Napier offered Bennett a scholarship — while still the head coach at Louisiana — before Georgia did in 2019.

“I woke up that morning planning on signing there (Louisiana), and then I got a call from Georgia,” Bennett recalled on Wednesday.

“I think Coach Napier is a really good coach, a great guy. I enjoyed all the time that we had.”

It’s one more wrinkle in Bennett’s fascinating journey, which began when he walked on with the Bulldogs in 2017 before transferring out to Jones (Miss.) Junior College for 2018.

Bennett doesn’t spend much of his time reflecting on his past — he’s too busy focused on extending the 15 minutes of fame he earned with his fourth-quarter performance in the 33-18 CFP Championship Game win over Alabama.

Bennett shrugs off the notion of disrespect, regardless of its validity.

“I can’t worry about that; there are too many other things as a team we have to worry about,” Bennett said. “And just in general, I can’t do anything about it.”

Bennett has to work hard just to get compliments from his own coaching staff, to the extent he asked someone to repeat a question at SEC Media Days just so he could hear the compliment Smart paid him.

“I just wanted to hear him compliment me,” Bennett said, drawing laughter from the 20 media members who swarmed him. “That’s super nice, I appreciate it.

“My worry is just about being good, we’ll let everything else sort itself out.”

But just to be clear, Bennett wants to be the best quarterback he can be for his teammates and himself, not to silence any critics or satisfy any fans.

“I care more about being good than people thinking that I’m good,” Bennett explained. “Am I competitive? Yeah. Do I want to be the best in the country? Yeah, but not because people say I’m not, just because that’s who I am.”

Bennett is one of the 95 players Smart said has earned NIL money, but that, too, is on his periphery.

“I try to focus on what’s important, which is football,” Bennett said. “All of it is gravy, but the reason why I’m here is to throw the football to people who can make plays with it.”

Like any other quarterback, Bennett is only as good as his supporting cast, even though he adds a mobile dimension that coaches can’t help but notice.

“Stetson, it’s pretty awesome to turn the TV on and see that guy playing quarterback for the Dawgs,” Napier said during his Florida presentation at SEC Media Days.

“He committed to the University of Louisiana, (but) he got a chance to go back and play, had the confidence.

“You think about his character, his confidence, and his abilities. Fantastic player and a great leader. Certainly, I can see why Georgia took him.”

That might not be what Smart wants to hear from a rival head coach, and it certainly doesn’t fit the “disrespect” narrative that many seem desperate to spin.

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