Maybe this isn’t a name you’ve heard until now…but today, if you read the papers or listen to sports news, it’s everywhere. Stetson Bennett IV. He’s the starting quarterback for the University of Georgia Bulldogs. And they are the reigning College Football Playoff National Champions. The last time UGA claimed that title was in 1980, when Vince Dooley was head coach and running back by the name of Hershel Walker ruled the gridiron. But that’s not the story. Not by a longshot. You see, if you looked at Stetson Bennett a year ago, that’s exactly the impression you might have…a longshot.
Bennett is from a small town in Pierce County GA named Blackshear. And that’s where he played High School Football. Despite leading Pierce County to three state playoff appearances, throwing for over 3000 yards, running for 500 more and scoring 40 total touchdowns in his senior year…he was still considered a longshot. A two star recruit coming out of high school, his only FBS scholarship offer, as I understand it, was to Middle Tennessee State, a former 1-AA university. Even with some fairly impressive stats many believed at 5 feet 11 inches tall and 185 pounds, he was too short and too light for the Power 5 schools. But Stetson had a dream…a dream he had carried from the age of 3, that he would be the starting quarterback for the University of Georgia! Like I said, a longshot.
So in 2017, with all those hopes and dreams, he heads off to UGA, trying out for the team as a walk-on. And guess what? He made it! But there’s another freshman on the team that year, a scholarship athlete named Jake Fromm. And Fromm would lead Georgia to the National Championship game in 2018, losing to Alabama by less than a touchdown. The success Georgia achieves that year attracts yet another five star prospect, a young man named Justin Fields. So when you see yourself moving further down the depth chart, decisions have to be made and Bennett transfers to Jones County Junior College. A far cry from playing in front of 90,000 plus at Sanford Stadium in Athens, GA. Yet in only one season for Jones County, he starts in 12 games, throws 16 touchdowns and moves up from a two star to a three star prospect. Still a longshot.
But then fate takes a hand. UGA comes calling again after Fields transfers to Ohio State and Stetson is now the backup to Jake Fromm…again. And I know what you’re thinking…not such a longshot anymore? Well, not exactly. Remember 3 star prospect, too short and too light, but good enough in a pinch. And down the depth chart he goes again. With the likes of Mathis, Newman and Daniels as UGA’s quarterbacks he may be headed for the title of longshot once again.
Then, fate takes a hand one more time. Mathis and Newman move on, Daniels goes out with an injury early in the 2021 season and Stetson Bennett IV is now Georgia’s starting quarterback. And the most improbable story…now, in fact has a storybook ending. The kind of story that produces movies…the kind of story that college football fans will be talking about for years. But guess what? Bennett is still 5 feet, 11 inches tall and still about 185 pounds. But he’s also the Bulldog’s starting quarterback who led his team to a 33-18 victory over Alabama on January 10, 2022. And just for good measure, he was named the offensive MVP of the game. Longshot no more!
So…what changed? How did he go from number 3 on the depth chart to Georgia’s favorite son in just a couple of years? And what can we all learn from his story? First, luck had nothing to do with this. Decisions did. As I hear it, Stetson Bennett IV, made key decisions about eliminating distractions, put his head down, not making excuses and going to work. Second, he found people, coaches and others who believed in him and worked to make him the best he could be at his craft. And third, he decided not to be “that guy.” The guy who listened to the naysayers. The guy who quit when things went south or mistakes were made. No, he was going to be the guy who lifted himself and his team above those situations. To focus on the goal and do all he could to make those dreams become a reality. And that’s exactly what happened on January 10, 2022.
So, when someone says you’re too short or too light for this purpose…when others say you’re too far down the depth chart in life to excel in that position. What are you going to do? Are you going to listen to the naysayers and let them define your future? Or will you, like Stetson Bennett IV, decide to limit the distractions, surround yourself with people who believe in you, stop making excuses and focus on the prize with all that’s in you. So next time you find yourself in that situation, look at a picture of Bennett, standing on the biggest stage in College Football with a hat on his head that reads, “Champion”.