Georgia’s Stetson Bennett likes the feel of being QB1

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett shares how his life has changed in the two months since he led the Bulldogs to a national championship win over Alabama. (Photo by Chip Towers/Chip.Towers@AJC.com)

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Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett shares how his life has changed in the two months since he led the Bulldogs to a national championship win over Alabama. (Photo by Chip Towers/Chip.Towers@AJC.com)

Sixth-year senior shares how life has changed since winning championship

ATHENS — Stetson Bennett has ditched the flip phone.

ExploreNo mistaking Bennett is the man at Georgia

That was among several revelations the Georgia quarterback shared in his first extensive interview since the Bulldogs returned from Indianapolis and their national championship win over Alabama on Jan. 10. Bennett answered questions from beat reporters for 15 minutes late Tuesday at the Butts-Mehre football complex after the Bulldogs completed their fourth spring practice.

Utilizing a smartphone is one of numerous changes in Bennett’s life since leading Georgia to that rather notable 33-18 come-from-behind win at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. It became necessary to fulfill the many NIL offers and obligations that have come his way over the past two months.

A sixth-year senior now, Bennett is expected to earn a six-figure income from Name, Image and Likeness deals that have come his way over the past 70 days. He has been hired by ESM agency, which now manages his marketing opportunities.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Bennett admitted. “The world exploded there for a second.”

ExploreBennett signs marketing deal with ESM

The new phone also is necessary for answering the many direct messages that populate his social media accounts these days, such as the one he received on Instagram from an individual he didn’t know. He asked Bennett if he should purchase a rare breed of three-banded armadillo for $10,000.

“He was like, ‘You’ve made good decisions in the past, I wanted to see if you wanted me to purchase this,’” Bennett said, laughing. “I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t know how much money you’ve got, but I want you to buy it!’”

Such is the life of Bennett these days. But as the Bulldogs move into their second week of spring practice, the emphasis for Bennett is shifting back to football. This is the first time in Bennett’s college career that he has entered a season as the undisputed No. 1 quarterback on his team.

Bennett earned that right after leading Georgia to a 14-1 season. He set a UGA record and finished fourth nationally in pass efficiency after completing 64.5% of his throws for 2,862 yards and 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

But it also required a series of sit-down meetings with coach Kirby Smart in which he was given some assurances. Bennett stopped short of saying he was promised the starting job for the 2022 season. But he has been the clear No. 1 in every spring practice so far, and the expectation is he still will be when the Bulldogs open the season against Oregon on Sept. 3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Now 24 years old, Bennett has a sixth season of collegiate eligibility thanks to the NCAA’s COVID-19 rule. He could have utilized it elsewhere as a transfer or remain at Georgia.

ExploreBennett's back for another season at UGA

Smart convinced him he should remain with the Bulldogs.

“There were a bunch of private conversations that we won’t go into,” Bennett said Tuesday. “But it was more, ‘How are we going to do it this year.’ I wanted to hear what coach Smart had to (say). “Obviously, I know he’s in charge, and we’re going to follow his playbook, but I just wanted to know. For me, it was time for me to be a little selfish while I was making that decision. And now I’m all aboard.”

“I love football. I love this team. I love the relationships, all the things that it teaches you. I also don't think I'm as good as I'm going to be, and I don't think this team is as good as it's going to be. So, it's about the daily grind, the daily competition."

- UGA quarterback Stetson Bennett

Smart was less transparent about those meetings.

“We had a couple of conversations just in passing,” Georgia’s coach said. “(Bennett) reached out a couple of times and said he wanted to come back and wanted to continue to get better. There weren’t a lot of questions or anything. It’s just that he feels like he’s grown as a quarterback. We showed a lot of confidence in Stetson, if you didn’t notice. And he answered that with the way he played.”

Bennett earned his status as QB1 last year the hard way. Taking over for injured starter JT Daniels in the fifth game last season, Bennett led Georgia to a 10-1 record – the only loss coming against Alabama in the SEC Championship game.

Bennett believes the way he and Daniels handled the weekly competition that continued through the second half of the season contributed to the Bulldogs’ success. Daniels, a senior, now is in the transfer portal.

“I think me and JT did an unbelievable job not dividing the locker room,” Bennett said. “Both when he came over and took over for me (in 2020), and when I took over for him this past year. We both did an incredible job.”

All that is behind Bennett now. The quarterback competition continues with sophomore Carson Beck, redshirt freshman Brock Vandagriff and early-enrollee freshman Gunner Stockton getting snaps behind Bennett.

While there certainly will be no guarantees beyond Bennett’s play on the field in games next fall, the Bulldogs are putting their trust in “The Mailman” to deliver again. And that’s all Bennett is asking for.

“I love football,” he said. “I love this team. I love the relationships, all the things that it teaches you. I also don’t think I’m as good as I’m going to be, and I don’t think this team is as good as it’s going to be. So, it’s about the daily grind, the daily competition.”

Bennett’s teammates like what they’ve seen.

“He’s just talking more,” senior offensive tackle Warren McClendon said. “When he sees everybody’s down or something, he’s trying to pick everybody back up, getting us back into practice. He’s leading by example and just being more vocal than he was last year.”

Center Sedrick Van Pran said he’s seeing the same old Stetson, post-championship.

“We always believed in Stetson, and he always believed in himself,” Van Pran said. “If anything, it may have given other people more confidence in him.”

Perhaps, but Bennett remains an unfinished product. Both Smart and Bennett agree on that.

ExplorePhotos: Bennett is a national championship-winning QB

“I think he’d be the first to tell you he can still grow and get better,” Smart said. “We have high expectations for Stetson, but we also have high standards of what we expect Stetson to do – in terms of leading our offense, in terms of going to class and doing the right things. We’re still challenging him to do those things.”

Meantime, Bennett is having to operate in what is a new world for him. In his previous four years in Athens, he was able to move about campus and downtown in relative anonymity. Now he constantly gets stopped for autographs and photos.

On Tuesday, while he was standing at a dais being interviewed by an auditorium full of reporters and television cameras, he learned he was part of a “Jeopardy!” question asked on television at that very moment.

For $800, the contestants were asked, “In 2022, quarterback Stetson Bennett led this school to the national title over SEC rival Alabama, 33-18.”

“I hope they got it right,” Bennett exclaimed.

ExploreBennett returns home for championship celebration

They did.

After appearing on “Good Morning America” and having a parade thrown in his honor back home in Blackshear, Bennett no longer is an unknown former walk-on. He’s the starting quarterback for the defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs.

He came back to UGA so he could know what that feels like.

“Why does anybody who’s ever won something do it again?” Bennett said. “Because it felt nice. Pretty cool. So, let’s go do it again. Let’s see if we’ve got what it takes.”

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