How Stetson Bennett did things the hard way after making Kirby Smart sweat out his return to Georgia (2024)

ATHENS — Stetson Bennett is nobody’s pushover — never has been — and he made that clear in a recent interview with current Georgia players.

Bennett, appearing in a Classic City Collective Instagram post, had current Georgia players laughing about how he made Kirby Smart sweat out his decision to return to the program in 2019.

“I was gonna go to Louisiana-Lafayette,” said Bennett, who had originally planned to sign with then-Ragin’ Cajuns coach and current Florida head man Billy Napier after spending the 2018 season at Jones (Miss.) Junior College.

“I woke up and signing day wasn’t a big deal to me because I knew where I was going,” Bennett said, “So I woke up a little bit late and I was gonna sign it and fax it over.”

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Instead, Smart and then UGA offensive coordinator Jim Chaney made a late play to get Bennett back after Justin Fields left the Bulldogs to finish his career at Ohio State, leaving incumbent Jake Fromm the only scholarship QB on the roster.

RELATED: Ohio State’s Ryan Day puts his spin on Justin Field’s transfer out of UGA

Bennett, who arrived at UGA as a walk-on in 2017, had left Athens to attend Jones (Miss.) Junior College and had chosen Louisiana-Lafayette to sign with in 2019 over offers from UMass, Kent State and Samford.

Now Georgia was calling back with a scholarship in hand.

“I woke up to like four missed phone calls from Coach Smart, (Jim) Chaney back when he was here, and I was like, ‘Oh, what’s going on?’ " Bennett said.

“I call them back and talked to them, and they’re like, ‘We’re gonna need an answer now,’ and I was like, ‘You ain’t gonna get an answer now, I got to think about this, you know this is my decision.’

“But I did call back like three hours later, because I did kinda want to go.”

Georgia also scrambled to flip Ohio State commit D’Wan Mathis on the early signing day after the Mathis family caught wind of Fields’ pending transfer into the Buckeyes’ program.

RELATED: Mathis explains why he lost trust in Ohio State, signed with UGA

RELATED: How Trevor Lawrence’s early success affected Fields transfer

But there was no experience behind Fromm on the roster, and Bennett had impressed as a walk-on running the scout team in 2017, particularly when he assumed the role of Baker Mayfield during the team’s preparation for what became a historic Rose Bowl win over Oklahoma.

Fromm, who quarterbacked the 2017 team and held off Field’s challenge for starting duties in 2018, led Georgia back to the SEC Championship Game in 2019 and a Sugar Bowl win over Baylor. This, despite heavy attrition at the receiver position and an injury to star tailback D’Andre Swift.

Bennett played in just five games in 2019, seeing his most extensive action in wins over Murray State (9-of-13, 124 yards, 2 TD, 1 Int) and Arkansas State (9-10, 109).

When Fromm turned pro after the 2019 season, Georgia signed Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman along with adding current starter an then-coveted Florida prep star Carson Beck to the 2020 Class.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to no spring football at Georgia in 2020, but behind the scenes, Newman and then-UGA OC Todd Monken weren’t on the same page.

By April, Georgia was stealthily seeking another QB, and former 5-star prospect and USC quarterback J.T. Daniels was deemed like the right person for the job.

Smart was the first to contact Daniels when the 2020 spring portal opened, and Daniels hit it off with Monken immediately, leading him to choose Georgia over Tennessee in what was then a surprise offseason add.

Suddenly, the UGA quarterback room was full with Newman, Daniels, Mathis, Beck and Bennett on the roster.

Bennett spent the offseason leading into the 2020 campaign buried on the depth chart without much fanfare.

But then Newman opted out for the 2020 season, citing Covid concerns, and Daniels’ injured knee had not healed enough for him to be ready for the season-opener.

Mathis got the opening day start at Arkansas, but when the offense sputtered, Bennett entered in the second quarter and sparked the Bulldogs to a 37-10 win over new Razorbacks’ coach Sam Pittman.

Smart liked the mobility Bennett brought, and the gritty former walk-on from South Georgia held the job until suffering an injured shoulder in the Bulldogs’ 44-28 loss to the Gators (UGA’s most recent regular-season loss at the time of this 2024 publication).

Daniels stepped in for the next game, a home date with Mississippi State, and passed for 401 yards. Daniels and the Bulldogs closed out the season with three more wins, including a come-from-behind thriller over previously undefeated Cincinnati in the Chikl-fil-A Peach Bowl.

That led Smart and Monken to declare Daniels the clear-cut starter entering the offseason and into the 2021 spring drills.

It appeared the writing was on the wall for Bennett in the 2021 G-Day Game when Daniels (28-41, 324 yards, 3 TDs), Beck (22-31, 236) and even then-freshman Brock Vandagriff (6-9, 47) got more playing time and pass attempts than Bennett (3-4, 29).

“We’re all human,” Bennett recalled of that uncertain time, “and you’re kind of like, ‘jeez sometimes it seems like I’m not going to play at all.”

RELATED: Stetson Bennett explains how it’s easier to be No. 1 quarterback

So, Bennett said, he went to Smart over the summer and made it clear how he was feeling about being buried on Monken’s depth chart and not getting enough reps to compete.

“It was a tough decision, probably one of the hardest that I ever made,” Bennett said, sharing after the 2021 Arkansas game that he considered not returning to Georgia that season. “It was tough and, at the end, I broke it down and I decided to stay.”

RELATED: Todd Monken admits he undervalued Bennett

It obviously worked out quite well for Bennett and Georgia, as the Bulldogs would need Bennett more than anyone could have imagined.

Daniels was sidelined by upper-body injuries early in the 2021 season, and Beck, while talented, was self-admittedly not ready to take over the starting job when opportunity presented itself.

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Carson Beck clears the air, why he didn't transfer out in 2021

But there was one twist left in Bennett’s career when UGA pursued then-Oklahoma transfer Caleb Williams after winning the 2021 CFP Championship.

Bennett, famously, went on Good Morning America the day after winning Offensive MVP honors in a 33-18 CFP title game win over Alabama and questioned his future at Georgia.

Bennett, appearing very tired, had a curious answer when asked about his future in football.

“I’m here to play football for the University of Georgia,” Bennett told GMA. “And then … once that’s over, whatever my interest will be — which is hard, when you’re playing college football, because you don’t get internships, you don’t get all that stuff, you don’t get the time off that other students get. But once that is over with — I’m majoring in economics, I’d like to go to law school.

“But for the next year? I’m gonna play football. I’ve got a decent amount of years. Hopefully, I live until at least 80. So, we’ll say 60 years to not play football. I’m going to play football this year — we’ll see where.

We will see if I can trust the decisions made by the staff, and we will see where I’m going to play.”

Few knew at the time what Bennett was referring to, but it was later learned that Bennett was present when Williams took a covert visit to Georgia before electing to follow his head coach to USC.

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Bennett shows there's no quit in him, returns to lead 2022 Bulldogs

Bennett said there were “a bunch of private conversations” with Smart after the 2021 season before he decided to return to Georgia in 2022.

“It was time for me to be a little selfish while I was making that decision,” Bennett said. “I wanted to hear a few things; he told me some of what I wanted to hear, and some wasn’t, in closed-door conversations.”

Bennett helped lead Georgia to a perfect 15-0 season in 2022, winning Offensive MVP honors in both a furious comeback win over Ohio State in the CFP Semifinals and a rout of TCU in the CFP title game.

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Bennett is currently back with the Los Angeles Rams, the team that selected him in the fourth round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

The self-styled “Mailman” could be poised to rise from the depths and deliver yet again.

Bennett is competing to win back-up duties (behind Matthew Stafford) for the opening game, as veteran Jimmy Garoppolo is suspended the first two games of the 2024 season for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

Bennett’s journey, filled with its ups and downs, has been no laughing matter, his playful Classic City Collective interview aside.

How Stetson Bennett did things the hard way after making Kirby Smart sweat out his return to Georgia (2024)
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