Stetson Bennett III, his father, is a Bulldog. He’s an alum and a longtime season ticket holder. When asked about his son’s plans for the very near future, he was non-committal.
He was not showing a politician’s grace in sidestepping a question. That’s because those questions haven’t been fully vetted.
Bennett led the Bulldogs on Monday to the finest moment in program history. Given the relief and the time between titles, it is the most cherished championship in Bulldog history. At least.
He has eligibility left. The lure of NFL first-round money is not here. When folks say the “Mailman” story is the Notre Dame “Rudy” and NFL Kurt Warner stories put together, they are not wrong.
But the looming question polarizes the Georgia base. It is because of the load Bennett carried this fall.
He brought that up in interviews leading up to the championship. “The Mailman” said he couldn’t carry it alone.
The Bennetts are a tough-minded football family. There is SEC coaching blood in their roots and it is strong. Stetson Bennett III said on Thursday morning he couldn’t remember the last time he saw his son cry.
He saw it on national TV in the closing glory of Georgia’s 33-18 win against defending champion Alabama. Then he saw it again when he finally got to spend some time with his son at the team hotel early Tuesday morning after that ballgame.
Then he saw the replays again.
“I turned on SportsCenter and I saw Ringo intercept that pass and I saw Stet broke down,” his father said. “Then I broke down and then I turned the television back off and I just praised the Lord again. That’s about what I’ve done since.”
“Done a couple of interviews but other than that, that’s about it.”
Bennett III told DawgNation he wasn’t able to confirm a report that Stetson injured his wrist on the first Alabama sack. Published reports have sideline reporters noting Bennett was working and massaging and flexing that wrist in the game.
There was one account that chronicled that Bennett required the use of a Theragun massager on his wrist.
“I didn’t hear anything about that,” Bennett III said. “We met after the game and spent about 20 or 30 minutes with him. It was all just a very long embrace. Just tears. He said he broke down during the game or right there afterward. I hadn’t seen it at that time. I told him that I did, too. But when I saw it, he didn’t expect it. He said as much. I didn’t really expect it either, but I could see all the pain, all the hurt, all the miles, all the tears, all the sweat, all the banged-up wrist. Everything. I could see it all coming out at one time. It was a pretty special moment.”
The Georgia quarterback will not ponder a decision like this until he must.
“I think he will process everything if you watch him whether it is an interview or whatever else,” his father said. “On the field, he processes data very rapidly. But in life, he’s going to take it all in, assess it and whether it is a NIL deal or you’ve got one more year. Whether it is are you going to play or where are you going to play? Or whatever? He’s going to take all of it in and then make the decision.”
The final minutes of the Alabama game seemed more like relief than exhilaration.
He has, at times, not been the fan’s choice to start at quarterback for Georgia.
Or the coaching staff’s choice.
He seems to have the permanent label of preferred walk-on. No matter how many plays he made on Top 20 teams this fall. Bennett actually came back on scholarship to add numbers to the QB room after Justin Fields left in January of 2019.
It didn’t matter how many quality SEC wins and road wins he put up. Everyone pointed to the defense. Not him. He wasn’t the future pro quarterback with the 5-star resume.
Give JT Daniels the season and numbers Bennett authored. Everyone would be happy. The storybook season was great, but folks did get hung up on its on-field offensive author.
The loud minority clamors for him to just ride off into the sunset. He’ll never have to worry about gainful employment or income in the state of Georgia for the rest of his life.
Is it a matter of playing at all? Or is it a matter of playing for Georgia?
“He loves to play football,” his father said. “He obviously loves the University of Georgia. I think the general population has accepted that now. I think they didn’t realize the love that he had for Georgia.”
The Bennett family still heard that negativity. Even in Indianapolis. Even the day after that national championship victory.
Folks have said Bennett needs to step aside for Georgia. Let some of those really talented quarterbacks on the roster lead the team now. As hard as that may be to believe after Monday night.
“What I’ve learned the last few months is that as many opinions there are out there there will be that many posts,” his father said. “Nobody respects anybody. Anybody’s feelings. It is not their journey so it really doesn’t matter. It is really a sad state we have all gotten to here.”
But he knows there are better folks out there than on message boards. Or social media. They are better than the venom and vitriol despite his son leading UGA to the second-most victories of 15 or more points in the AP poll era.
“I know that silent majority is out there,” his father said. “They are silent. But I know that verbal minority is something else.”
How has he been able to handle that outside noise? How much does he let that bother him? When he answered that, he offered up a window into his personal faith.
Bennett said he has undergone a spiritual rejuvenation. He is transparent in his testimony. Especially listening to him describe a painful divorce and a split in his family.
He said he was living a life as a Christian according to his faith, but called it a “head salvation” and not a “heart salvation.”
“In March of 2019 the Lord radically saved my soul,” Stetson Bennett III said. “So where I had football, family and my children as my God. When I got the Lord as the true Lord of my life and then everything else was after that, that is what dramatically changed my life. Changed everything. Since then, it hasn’t been about football.”
He had placed many things above his faith, he said.
“When I got that piece of the puzzle right, I tell you it all fell into place,” his father said. “The Lord has given me everything that I wanted. Everything that I was seeking with my whole heart. Now that I am seeking him with my whole heart, he has given it all to me. This championship was just the final piece of it all. It is faithfulness. I tell you I have cried a lot of tears just thanking [God] for that.”
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Georgia QB Stetson Bennett was named the Offensive MVP of the 2021 Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
That data points left to process for Stetson Bennett IV with Georgia
What does Bennett still have left to see? Maybe the championship celebration on Saturday will have something to do with it.
What will that day be like? How will he be received? It will be a chance for the silent majority to let their voices be heard.
They can drown out those that feel Stetson was fortunate to be Georgia’s quarterback. Not the other way around.
“Seeing Stet cry the morning after and getting to hug his neck the night of were really really special moments,” his father said. “He never cries. First time in years and years and years. But I knew the hurt and the pain and the road he has traveled. Just all of it.”
Will it take two weeks for a decision?
“I don’t know,” his father said. “He’s supposed to call me this afternoon. We’re going to talk, but probably not about that. I am going to see him this weekend obviously. I don’t know what. He knows more about the situation than I do clearly.”
Could a “one more year” rallying cry help? Would the lack of one hurt?
“He’ll take everything in,” his father said. “There’s an awful lot of hurt.”
This is the same stubborn player that kept going to every Elite 11 QB camp he could. Just to get noticed. He was always two or three quarterbacks away from being the best one at every camp.
And yet now he’s the QB of the greatest team in Georgia football history.
There has always been a steel-willed belief there. He’s bet on himself. But now he’s won it all, too.
NIL money won’t be a factor here.
“No, not at all,” his father said. “Stet is going to do what he wants to do. He’s done turned down more NIL money than a lot of people make in a year. It hasn’t ever been about the money.”
How has his son been able to succeed in spite of all of this?
“Just sheer determination,” Stetson Bennett III said. “You’re not going to tell him that he can’t when he can see clearly that he can do something.”
His father ranked toughness, force of will and wanting to prove people wrong as his son’s biggest blessings.
“Probably it is a combination of all of those,” he said. “Whether it is stick-ability or determination. It is not like he goes ‘I told you so’ when he does something big. That’s just not who he is.”
Did he think Monday night was his son’s best game?
The answer there was no. According to his father, the best game Stetson Bennett ever played was in 2013.
“The best game he has ever played was in the ninth grade,” his father said. “We were playing in a junior varsity football game against Camden County.”
Camden County is a much larger school than Pierce County. Probably three times larger. At least.
“He threw for 455 yards in a JV game,” Stetson Bennett III said. “I believe there were eight-minute quarters in that game. Maybe 10 minutes.”
The opposing coach came up to him after the game.
“He told me I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” his father said. “He was blown away.”
Bennett’s top receiver couldn’t break five seconds in the 40 that day.
“When I tell you he could do more than put it in a window that day,” he said. “He could do more than that. He could put it in that mailbox that day.”
The reasoning behind that choice was pretty elementary. At least to him.
“We weren’t better than Camden County that day,” his father said. “We won on the last play of the game. It was 50-something to 50-something. We won. Threw for 455 yards. It was really really something special.”
That’s his best game.
“We were better than Michigan,” he said. “We were better than Alabama. But we weren’t better than Camden County that day. He still brought us a victory.”
This family likes long odds. And challenges. He said that his son loves football and likely still wants to play.
Maybe he wants just one more ride at Georgia. Not a ride off into that sunset.
Perhaps the Mailman just looks outside and doesn’t see the sun setting at all. Not just yet.
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