ATHENS — Carson Beck stood before assembled media Wednesday for the first time in his life as Georgia’s QB1. He was informed by a reporter there that, when the the Bulldogs play Tennessee-Martin in 10 days, it will be Beck’s first start since Mandarin High School played Seminole High four years ago.
Beck hadn’t considered that.
“That’s crazy,” the tall, strapping quarterback said with a laugh. “I mean, obviously, it’s been a long time. It’s felt even longer. But I’m excited, and I’m looking forward to it.”
When Beck showed up as an early enrollee in December 2019, Jake Fromm was the quarterback. Since then, the Bulldogs have started D’Wan Mathis, Stetson Bennett, JT Daniels and Bennett again.
All the while, Beck was standing close by. He very nearly started a game the second week of his sophomore season after Daniels was sidelined by a back injury. But former offensive coordinator Todd Monken, acting on somewhat of a hunch, decided to go with Bennett after a particularly impressive week of practice.
Bennett threw five touchdown passes in the first half of that game against Alabama-Birmingham, and as they say, the rest is history. But Monken said he knew then and knows now that Beck was a good quarterback.
As much as anything, he’s impressed that Beck stuck around.
“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,” Monken, now with the Baltimore Ravens, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “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.”
It is rare indeed. In the age of the transfer portal and NIL, quarterbacks have proved especially impatient with finding their way into the starting lineup. If one isn’t an established starter within two to three years, they then to hit the portal.
Beck said he considered it, but always reasoned he was better off staying at UGA.
“My answer to that is the camaraderie that we have, the connection that we have here at the University of Georgia,” Beck said. “I think it’s unmatched to other places. I mean, obviously, I can’t compare because I haven’t been anywhere else. But I know the connection we have here is something we strive to have, and it was one of the biggest things that kept me here all these years.”
Credit: Chip Towers
Beck finally got the nod early last week when he met with coach Kirby Smart and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. Smart and Bobo also met with Brock Vandagriff and Gunner Stockton to inform them that Beck would get the majority of the snaps with the No. 1 offense from that point forward, but that the competition would carry on into the season.
“The conversation was very simple; it was straight forward,” Beck said. “They told us all what was going to happen. I don’t think it really changed anything much. I mean, I think we all performed well during camp. It is good to know that, you know, you’re the guy. But it doesn’t change my approach to watching film or anything of that sort. It’s all maintained the same.”
No, the biggest difference is the perception around Beck – and Georgia. The back-to-back national champions are a consensus pick as preseason No. 1 for the 2023 season as well.
Sure, there is pressure, seeing how Georgia has lost only one game in the past 30. But Beck also said he learned a lot from walking alongside Bennett and playing under Smart the past two years.
“I definitely embrace it,” Beck said of the pressure that comes with being in his position. “I mean, Kirby makes it super challenging in practice. He applies pressure every single day, our defense applies pressure. Obviously, there’s pressure here, and there’s always going to be pressure. But I think we’ve all done a good job of putting ourselves in situations where, once we get out on the field, it’s just like another day at practice. That makes it easy.”
All Power 5 quarterbacks are exposed to an incredible amount of scrutiny, both on the field and off of it. Beck knows that and expects it.
He said he and Bennett grew very close over the past two seasons, and he learned a lot for him. He saw up close how Bennett flipped the narrative from overachieving former walk-on to two-time College Football Playoff Championship game MVP.
“He got it the worst at quarterback,” Beck said. “I mean, a lot of people really hated on him a lot. You could see that all over the internet. But he just maintained, kept his head down and kept going. I’d say that’s the biggest thing I learned from him. You just have to do you and do what you have to do. It really doesn’t matter about the noise.”
Smart said the deciding factor on going with Beck over the other quarterbacks was a decided edge in experience and knowledge of the offense. Going forward, it will be based on how he performs in games and leads.
“He’s been around, so he understands the demands that we put on the quarterback here, but he also understands the demands that I put on situational football,” Smart said. “There’s not a day we go out there that we’re not working on some specific situation. It helps having been through that and seeing how JT handled it, how Stetson handled it, how other guys handled it. So, he’s wise, he’s intelligent, and he’s got a personality that I think the team draws to because he’s relatively quiet and doesn’t show a lot of emotion. I think they have embraced him, and he’s done a great job in this fall camp.”
Teammates who have observed Beck’s slow but steady rise up close say it was neither a fluke nor a birthright.
Senior defensive tackle Warren Brinson roomed with Beck when the Bulldogs were on the road during the 2021 season, and he said he “saw a shift in Carson” after Georgia won that first title.
“We were out one night and he said, ‘Warren, I want my own,’” Brinson shared this week. I said, ‘what you mean?’ He’s like, ‘I want my own national championship.’ After that, Carson’s been the first quarterback in, last quarterback out. It’s been that was since his sophomore year. He has a different car now, but he had a white Ford then. His white Ford was up there first and, when I would leave, his white Ford was still there.”
Having waited so long to get himself into position, Beck certainly doesn’t want to lose his grip on it any time soon. He is doing everything he can to be prepared for every day.
Known for wearing his blond hair somewhat long over the years, he showed up for preseason with a buzz cut almost down to the skin. And, no, Beck said, he was not trying to emulate the “Stetson Fade.”
“It’s been super hot outside,” Beck said. “In previous summers I had long hair, and I was dying during team runs and stuff. It was way too hot for hair. So I just decided to shave it all off to make my life a little easier.”
He still shows up early and stays late for extra throwing with his wideouts and looks for an edge by going deep on opponent film study. Vandagriff and Stockton remain competitive and engaged, and ultimately, game performances will dictate who is under center for the Bulldogs. Dominic Lovett is new to the receiving corps, but he has been impressed with Georgia’s quarterback play.
“I have confidence in all three of our quarterbacks,” said Lovett, a Missouri transfer who is going to start in the slot for the Bulldogs. “Whoever coach Smart puts in, I feel like they can get the job done. But they all bring something to the table, but anybody they put in there can get the job done.”
The schedule sets up well for Beck with four consecutive home games to start the season. For the moment, at least, Beck is trying to keep the fuss to a minimum. His phone has been “blowing up” since Smart made the announcement Saturday, and media obligations have ramped up accordingly.
“This whole entire year, I’ve been working for it, grinding for it,” Beck said. “I kind of expected it for myself, but to actually hear it go live meant a lot to me. It’s something to see all the hard work pay off, like I’ve been saying. Sometimes it’s hard to be patient in a world where everything is so immediate, with social media and the internet and everybody wanting stuff now. Seeing that patience pay off really hits home.”
-Staff writer Gabriel Burns contributed to this article.