No one expected Stetson Bennett IV to win the battle for positions. Even his teammates were skeptical that he could do the job. But Bennett believed in himself, and now Georgia is in the national championship game because of it.
To be clear, I’m not talking about Kirby Smart’s decision in 2021 to make former Walk-on Georgia a starting quarterback, with Bennett helping lead Georgia to a national championship. I’m talking about the decision this offseason to make Bennett, already a Georgia legend, the owner of the field goal unit. “He really bought into his role as owner,” says long snapper Payne Walker of the Heisman finalist.
“Pod didn’t want me there for a while,” Bennett says, referring to Georgia kicker Jack Podlesny, who called Bennett’s assessment “accurate.” “There were ups and downs,” says Podlesny about the kicker-owner relationship.
They’re joking, or at least I think they are. But Bennett knew he could perform at the highest level — mostly because he doesn’t think holding is very difficult. “I was like, dude, I could catch that ball. That’s all you do.” When I asked him about it, he mimed catching a ball and putting it down to show how easy it was.
On virtually every other college football team (and all 32 NFL teams), the owner is the punter. Check out the biggest kicks of the 2022 season – TCU’s Fire Drill Game winner vs. Baylor; Army double OT field goal versus Navy; Tennessee’s Wobbler beats Alabama; the Ohio State Miss who sent Georgia to the national championship game – and you’ll see how players hold up. The tongue-in-cheek award given to the nation’s “best holder” (primarily an excuse to donate money to charity) is named after former Minnesota bettor Peter Mortell.
In 2020 and 2021, Georgia had All-SEC player Jake Camarda on hold. But he went to the NFL this year, leaving a void. Smart decided to put his starting QB in the role. “We don’t have screen tests,” Smart said in September. And apparently his kicker had no veto power.
And when Bennett throws a touchdown in Monday night’s national championship game, he won’t go to the sidelines like almost every other QB in college football. He’ll stay on the field and hold the extra point by turning six into seven. Incidentally, 2022 was the sixth season of Bennett’s college career; 2023 is something of an extra point.
Bennett is a throwback college quarterback, in keeping with the college football tradition of the unspectacular QB on a roster full of cleats, following in the footsteps of the Greg McElroys and the Ken Dorseys of the world. Georgia’s championship team last year consisted of five defensive players selected in the first round of the NFL draft, plus running back James Cook and wide receiver George Pickens, who are drafted in the second round. This Georgia team has two future NFL stars on the tight end, Darnell Washington and Brock Bowers.
Prior to Georgia’s recent run, the Game Manager QB seemed to have vanished from college football’s top contenders. From 2017 to 2021, five straight national titles were won by future NFL first-round draft picks – Deshaun Watson, Tua Tagovailoa, Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow and Mac Jones. Four of those were also blue-chip recruits. (We’re still figuring out the whole “Mac Jones” thing.) Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney told us that in college football’s current landscape, you couldn’t win a league without a QB who made a top-notch passing game .
To be clear, Stetson Bennett will not be a first-round NFL draft pick. He is 5-foot-11 and 25 years old. This reads like a dating profile, not a draft bio. Players his age have been drafted, busted, and placed on their second, third, and seventh NFL teams. But Bennett succeeded in a way Georgia’s top quarterback prospects failed to. Last year, he won the job over five-star recruit JT Daniels, a transfer from USC, and was the quarterback when Georgia eventually defeated Alabama. (It’s been a while.) And this year, Georgia is 14-0. At times, it seems like Bennett’s game is holding Georgia back. But in the fourth quarter of the Peach Bowl semifinals against Ohio State, he was down 11 and began tearing up beautiful passes after beautiful passes to win the game for the Dawgs.
Now Bennett will be looking to win a second national championship. (His first as a holder.) His presence in the college football ecosystem hints at a world where quarterbacks aren’t that special — and yet he’s the only guy anyone seems to be talking about, even of future ones surrounded by professional superstars. He represents something unique about college football, perhaps best summed up by his willingness to last.
Just say the name a few times. Stetson Bennett the Fourth. Every syllable makes him more likely to be a Georgia quarterback, including “the Fourth.” When Stetson Bennett IV throws a pass to Ladd McConkey, an angel gets his Masters Quarter-Zip from the gift shop at Augusta National.
The general consensus is that Bennett’s future is owning a car dealership. Seriously, I can’t stress enough how literally everyone assumes that Stetson Bennett will one day own a dealership. (The Shutdown Fullcast states it will be called Waycross and Blackshear’s Stetson Bennett Kia.) But it makes sense. The people of Georgia love the Dawgs, and when the man who led them to their greatest modern-day triumphs looks them in the eye and tells them they need to put down a down payment on a brand new Sorento, they’re sure to listen.
But once upon a time, Bennett couldn’t even sell himself. He used to wear a USPS hat to stand out at recruiting camps so he would be more memorable to recruiters — which highlighted his nickname, “the mailman.” Because “he delivers” or “he can throw the ball into a mailbox” or something like that. It wasn’t entirely clear, but the branding was his idea. Unfortunately, the schools still didn’t want him. He was short and didn’t have a large arm and was only able to get a scholarship from Middle Tennessee. He moved on to Georgia, where his parents were both alumni, and managed the Scout team, which earned praise for his impression of Baker Mayfield ahead of the 2018 Rose Bowl. But when Georgia landed five-star QB recruit Justin Fields, Bennett realized he wasn’t part of the program’s plans and transferred to Jones College, a junior college in Mississippi. (Fields, if you recall, was also willing to serve on Georgia’s special teams … but things didn’t go so well.) When Fields left for Ohio State, Bennett made the rare decision to transfer back to Georgia, this time as a fellow quarterback fellow hoping to actually play one day.
It feels like you know the story at this point. Bennett was undersized and overlooked but when he got the chance to play he blew everyone away and proved everyone wrong. Except it’s not really like that. There are times when Bennett’s game is frustrating, like when he lost her in the 2020 game in Alabama with three costly interceptions. He honestly never really surpassed Daniels, the USC transfer. Daniels threw touchdowns at a higher rate, completed passes at a higher rate and averaged more yards per attempt during his Georgia career than Bennett’s career average, and Georgia won literally every game Daniels played in. Check out how angry fans got in early 2021 Bennett got playing time over Daniels. But Daniels suffered an oblique injury and Smart didn’t give him back the starting spot when he was healthy; He transferred to West Virginia after Bennett won the natty.
You really don’t have to be a quarterback guru to understand why Bennett isn’t QB1 on draft boards. With all heart and courage and leadership qualities he sometimes misses. Sometimes bad. He doesn’t have great arm strength. And he makes a lot of unwise throws, which is exactly what an undersized backup on a team of future NFL stars shouldn’t do. Even six years into his career with a national title under his belt, Bennett’s The decision making is still criticized by Kirby Smart. There’s talk of Bennett being a suitable NFL backup, and he’s cracked Mel Kiper’s top 10 available QB prospects, but it’s edge.
So what is Bennett’s defining trait? The hackneyed answer is that he’s a winner. But we know Bennett isn’t the only reason Georgia is winning games. Your list is filled with kaijus. More than anything, Bennett represents an unstoppable desire to play college football — even if that means going to a school where it would be buried on the depth chart or transferring to a juco. He will even hold kicks when it counts.
Honestly, having a quarterback as a keeper makes no sense. Quarterbacks get injured a lot. This was an issue earlier in the year when Bennett started throwing up after a touchdown pass against South Carolina, forcing Australian punter Brett Thorson to hold the extra point. Quarterbacks spend all of practice working on offense and don’t have much extra time to work on field goal stuff. Podlesny estimates that with all live field goal operation, including Bennett and the entire offensive line, Georgia only gets three to six reps a week. The quarterback holder era seemed to have died with Tony Romo’s botched hold in the 2007 NFL playoffs. If you see a quarterback holder anywhere in college football, it’s likely a fourth-stringer. (That’s how Mac Jones got the Holder job at Alabama, though he kept it after becoming the starting QB.)
Meanwhile, players almost never get injured, have plenty of time to work on field goal stuff, and generally hang out with the kickers anyway. “Special teams, there is a clique,” says Podlesny.
Bennett might have been one of the most famous college football players in the country, but he was an underdog on special teams. So Bennett stayed after practice “to please me,” Podlesny said. After Podlesny is done kicking (kickers have a limit on how many swings they can take per day to save their legs), he’ll watch Bennett lay down one hold at a time to make sure he gets it right. “I found out how mental kickers are,” says Bennett.
Bennett could be doing anything else with his time: reaping the social benefits of being a national championship QB winner, delving into the finer details of auto dealership entrepreneurship to prepare for his future, or even preparing for his day job as quarterback. He might even get a damn job like a normal 25 year old. Instead, he puts in extra work to get good at a job he thinks is relatively easy.
Stetson Bennett IV may or may not be good enough to go pro, so he struggles to savor every ounce of college football he can get — every game time, every game, every snap, even if it means an unseen one Taking on roles on special teams in addition to being a Star QB. He’s holding on so tight, he’s even holding.
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