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The Legend and Lesson of Stetson Bennett

By BJ Bennett
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When others say you can't, Stetson says you can.

The now-iconic journey of national championship-winning Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett is truly one of college football's all-time great tales. A former walk-on who transferred to junior college before returning back to Athens and, against all odds, led his childhood team to history, Bennett's story should, and likely one day will, come with a script. Maybe 5'9'', lightly-recruited out of high school, often way down the depth chart and, once he started playing, rarely getting the credit he deserved, Bennett, through it all, believed.  

I said on my daily show "Three & Out" on ESPN Radio Coastal with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on Monday afternoon that I hoped what Bennett was doing would help encourage, validate and open doors for quarterbacks and players in all sports who were maybe a bit undersized and a bit unheralded. My friend and co-host Ben Troupe then corrected me, offering even more depth, saying that Bennett's efforts weren't just there to inspire athletes who have been overlooked, but every person who has ever been slighted, too. 

"To the people who have been doubted in their life," Troupe explained, "...Stetson represents that."

There is such power in that perspective. Stetson Bennett's story isn't just one of perseverance, it's one of potential. That, we all have. Bennett is as much a lesson as he is a legend. And he's very much a legend. 

Not only did Bennett lead Georgia to its first national championship since 1980 with 224 passing yards and two touchdowns, he did so with the same grit and determination that has underlined his entire career. Early in the fourth quarter, with the Bulldogs clinging to a one-point lead, Bennett was sacked and apparently, after a controversial review, fumbled at the Georgia 16-yard line. Alabama then scored the go-ahead touchdown just over a minute later. Many fingers were pointing at, and all eyes on were on, Bennett, a player just about everyone said could not lead Georgia to a win in this game.

On the biggest stage in college football, against the modern standard in the sport, facing generational pressure, with all kinds of exaggerated commentary and unfair criticism circling, Bennett, relying on his calm and conviction, proved to be at his very best. The situation was no match for his spirit. 

After the fumble, with Georgia trailing by five in the fourth quarter, Bennett finished the night 4-of-4 for 83 yards and two touchdowns. He, on the field with the Heisman Trophy winner, was clearly the better quarterback in the championship game clutch. Bennett, furthermore, was the best player on the field. His 40-yard scoring strike on a 2nd-and-18 gave the Bulldogs a lead midway through the fourth quarter. A 3rd-down 15-yard touchdown dime to Brock Bowers later extended the Georgia lead to eight. Quite literally, Bennett was perfect in the game's deciding moments.

The Bulldogs didn't just win with Bennett under center, as some incorrectly offered all season, they won a national championship with him making the deciding plays late. From Blackshear, Georgia to Indianapolis, Indiana and beyond, Bennett, winding road and all, led the way. He, overcome with emotion post-game, was fittingly named the game's Offensive MVP.

Whether people will acknowledge it or not, Monday night was a celebration and a continuation for Bennett. He entered the national championship game fourth nationally in passer rating, ahead of, for frame of reference, Young. Bennett was one of college football's best quarterbacks for much of the season, he just didn't get credit for it. He also didn't let it distract or dissuade him. It's been said that if you are process-driven, the results will follow. Ring in hand, Bennett may be the ultimate example.  

Simply put, Bennett chased his dreams and looked right past the many doubters and naysayers in staring straight ahead to history. He didn't once blink.

All that Bennett did, from walking on, to transferring out, to transferring back in, to competing for the starting job, to continuing to prove himself even after emerging as one of college football's most proficient passers, was far from easy. Few things worthwhile are. Never did Bennett get the benefit of the doubt. Seldom, even, did he get the full support of his own fan base. What Bennett did have, however, was an unwavering belief in who he was and what he could do. That mindset further galvanized those around him.

What an example. Not just for quarterbacks. Not just for football players. Not just for athletes. But, as Ben so aptly said, for people. We all can learn from Bennett, maybe even lean on him in times of hesitation or doubt. It's not just what Bennett accomplished, mind you, but how. In an era where many talk about what they hope to do, he, with a flip phone and a straight face, just went out and did it. That courage, faith and tenacity resonates -- and it should. Regardless of where you are, be who you are and be steadfast in it.

When others say you can't, Stetson says you can.

This remarkable feature, with tickets undoubtedly coming someday, is one that matters. Bennett may be college football's curley-haired Kurt Warner and his movie, American Underdog, is in theaters now. Like Warner's, Bennett's epic is one that should be celebrated and shared. Away from the bright lights and the big moments, it's still a story, in some ways, everybody can see themselves in. Encouragement can come in many forms; Bennett offers 2,862 passing yards, 29 passing touchdowns and one national championship for the ages. 

A football player who countless people called too small promptly stood tall when it mattered most. People won't just look back on Bennett for years to come, they will look up to him as well. It's a deference he has earned.

The adventures of Stetson Bennett leave footprints of red clay all across college football. Whatever your progress, whatever your path, this is a story of making your own mark while finding your own way.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: / Twitter: @BJBennettSports