It’s Carson Beck’s turn. Here’s why he’s ready to lead Georgia

Carson Beck was a championship quarterback before making cameos for the Bulldogs over the past two years. Go back to Mandarin High School in December 2018, when Beck led a team The Florida Times-Union dubbed the “Miracle Mustangs.”

One year after going 2-8, Mandarin won the Class 8A championship over powerhouse Miami Columbus, 37-35. Beck threw for five touchdowns that evening, further proving himself a quarterback worthy of being wooed by SEC schools.

A junior, Beck was a first-year starter for Mandarin, having transferred from Providence School after it shut down its program. He overcame a wobbly start and early groin injury to throw for 3,546 yards and 39 touchdowns across 14 games. He was named Florida’s Mr. Football, the seventh Jacksonville-area player to earn the honor.

“Certainly, with him at quarterback – I’m not going to say that was the main reason (we won) because a lot of guys were playing good football – but we recognized going into a game with that quarterback gave us an opportunity,” former Mandarin coach Bobby Ramsay told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He was going to be the best quarterback on the field in every game he played.”

In the final two games of their championship run, Beck went 42-for-63 passing for 804 yards and eight touchdowns. “It was the best back-to-back games of any quarterback that I’ve seen,” Ramsay said.

Beck’s final season was less acclaimed but perhaps more telling. Mandarin lost 18 starters from its championship season. Ramsay jokingly compared his team with the Florida Marlins’ infamous post-title selloffs. Yet Beck “dragged” the Mustangs to the playoffs. They lost in the first round to Seminole High, completing his high school career.

“He played phenomenal,” Ramsay said. “We had no run game. We had a lot of guys injured. I really was just almost as impressed with what he did in those situations where he didn’t have as much talent around him. He took that team as far as it could go. And a lot of people don’t talk about that because we didn’t play in the state championship, and he wasn’t the player of the year like he was the year before.”

The 2019 campaign was the last time Beck commanded his own team. His days in the background are now over.

After waiting three seasons, two behind ultimate underdog Stetson Bennett IV, Beck is taking control of the reigning two-time champions. He’ll be Georgia’s starting quarterback when it opens the season at 6 p.m. Saturday against Tennessee-Martin.

It’s the reward for his patience.

“It’s a real credit to him in that it’s a rarity these days to stay for three years, continue to compete, continue to get better at an elite program that has elite structure,” former Bulldogs offensive coordinator Todd Monken, now with the Baltimore Ravens, said in an interview with the AJC. “I think he knew damn well that it was in his best interest to stay and get better, and that when it was his opportunity, he’s going to be surrounded by good players, a great structure and an elite staff. But still, with all that being said, very rare that a young man ends up staying all those years waiting for his time to come.”

This time, Beck won’t be a newbie tasked with guiding a program out of obscurity, as he was at Mandarin. He’s a mainstay who will try to keep this one atop the national hierarchy.

“I’m always going to be biased toward my players, but I honestly think had Bennett left last year and Carson had been the starter, the season would’ve gone the same way it did,” Ramsay said. “I think they would’ve won the national championship and gone undefeated. I think Carson was ready to do it last year.

“If you look at the NFL draft this past year, those three quarterbacks who went in the top four (Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Anthony Richardson), Carson was right there with them in the recruiting. … I think he has every bit the ability of those same kids. It was a situation where I thought he was going somewhere he would play earlier. It’s turned out he’s had to wait longer, but I think it’s been the right decision for him. He’s put himself in a great situation.”

Indeed, Beck’s circumstances largely are a quarterback’s dream. He’s graced with a beastly offensive line (though it has questions, the talent is undeniable). He has one of the best five receiver groups in the country. His tight end Brock Bowers might be the most gifted individual in college football.

Coach Kirby Smart will emphasize the rushing attack, meaning Beck won’t be required to play superman. New offensive coordinator Mike Bobo provides familiarity, having been on staff as an analyst. The defense should be sensational again. The schedule also falls on the weaker side, which provides a larger margin for error if/when the Bulldogs lack their A-plus performance. The situation might mean Beck having to fight the urge to do too much.

If it comes together as hoped, and if Beck is what Ramsay and others believe he is – that’s a Heisman Trophy candidate – then there’s no reason why Georgia can’t become the first three-peat champion since the 1930s.

“I think Carson is going to do great,” Bennett told the AJC. “I saw him mature, saw him grow up as we were there. I can’t wait to watch him this year.”

Having patience isn’t easy. Beck considered transferring elsewhere after Bennett returned following the first championship. Schools let it be known, through back channels, that they’d be interested. It’s not a huge assumption to say he could’ve started for several upper-echelon programs. No one would blame Beck for feeling frustrated. He felt he would be Georgia’s guy much sooner than 2023.

“I wouldn’t say it’s been easy for him,” Ramsay said. “When people are like, ‘Well, he’s been patient.’ It doesn’t mean he hasn’t had his frustrations. And that it hasn’t been hard. I wouldn’t sit here and say that he’s had an easy time of it being the backup because when you’re a competitor, don’t think for a second that he doesn’t think, ‘I should be out there playing.’

“That’s where you give the player credit for having the maturity to understand that, ‘Hey, this is my role. I’m going to embrace it. I’m going to win a ring along the way, and then I’m just going to work as hard as I can to win, and when I get my opportunity, I’ll take advantage of it.’”

The day has come. Beck can show spectators why he always has been so confident. He impressed in the spurts when he would play, but that’s just 58 throws. He looked razor sharp in the spring game – for whatever that’s worth – showing nice touch, good arm strength and a propensity for spreading the ball around.

Beck wasn’t this level of player a year ago. He’s bettered himself behind the scenes.

“He always had ability and arm talent,” Monken said. “But I think with every year, he matured in a lot of ways. … He got to the point last year where I thought he didn’t let a bad play or a bad situation spiral into a number of inconsistencies in a row. So he got a lot better that way. He always had elite pocket presence and arm talent, and I think it really started to come together – really after the fall camp and then during the season. He’d get in there and really understand where to go with a ball and what we’re trying to do.

“So it does not surprise me that he was named the starter. And it didn’t surprise me that sometimes it takes guys longer than expected.”

Much was made of Bennett lacking ideal physical attributes. That won’t be said of Beck, listed at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds with plus-rated arm strength. He resembles the more traditional NFL quarterback prospect.

Bennett’s improvements over the past two years largely were technical, especially in how he increased his velocity on throws. Beck’s growth has centered more on the position’s nuances.

“Carson’s improvements come much more in terms of, in my opinion, not the mental part of it, per se, because he was always smart; it’s just handling things,” Monken said. “Consistency, the ups and downs of playing the position, the things you can control and the things you can’t control. To me, you really saw a big difference over the last six to eight months that I was there. You just saw a big difference. And the ball does pop off his hand. It does.

“He’s always been accurate. He’s always been smart. He’s gotten more consistent with his body language, the way he carries himself, the way he handles when things don’t go the way you want it to go. And it wasn’t bad. It’s just normal. It’s human to respond that way. But I think he’s just gotten a lot, a lot better. And that comes with age, with success, with more comfort in what we were doing offensively.”

If this season goes well, Beck could have a life-altering decision to make – whether to declare for the NFL draft. That’s not a premature suggestion because it’s expected. Beck is leading the No. 1 team, equipped with a bevy of playmakers and likely the best relative supporting cast he’ll have in his career, college and pros.

But first, as Smart and his team would immediately remind you, he needs to handle Tennessee-Martin. Then Ball State. Then South Carolina. ...

Then maybe, in early 2024, Beck’s waiting game will have led him back into a championship one.