It's the second go-around for Stetson Bennett IV as a Georgia quarterback, and this time he's on scholarship.
Bennett was a walk-on with the Bulldogs a year ago but played this past fall for Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Mississippi, where he threw for 1,840 yards and 16 touchdowns while leading his team to a 10-2 record. That served as a necessary proving ground for the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder, who missed being in Athens and is appreciative to be back.
"Junior colleges are not as nice as this," Bennett said Saturday afternoon in a news conference after Georgia's seventh spring practice. "They've got great people, great coaches and great football, but it's not the same. Being away made me realize how lucky I was."
Bennett, a redshirt sophomore from Blackshear, Georgia, is vying with early enrollee D'Wan Mathis for the second-team spot behind junior Jake Fromm, who has guided the Bulldogs to 24 victories the past two seasons and a 12-0 record against Southeastern Conference Eastern Division opposition.
"We know a lot about Stetson because he's been in our program," Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said before spring workouts started. "He's played in a spring game with 93,000 people in it. I've got great expectations for him."
Bennett arrived at Georgia in 2017, just like Fromm but with a lot less fanfare. He had accumulated 3,700 passing yards, 500 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns during his career at Pierce County High School, but Jacob Eason and Fromm were the top two quarterbacks for the Bulldogs going into the 2017 season, with fifth-year senior Brice Ramsey the third-string option.
That left Bennett guiding the scout team, which earned him more and more respect each week, especially when he imitated Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield leading up to Georgia's 54-48 double-overtime victory in the Rose Bowl.
"That was my offense in high school, so that was a lot of fun," Bennett said. "Our favorite thing that year was beating the No. 1 defense, because what else were we looking forward to? We weren't going to play on Saturdays, so we looked forward to going out there and trying to beat the No. 1 defense."
Despite the admiration he earned during his first Georgia season while redshirting, Bennett believes he didn't go about his business the way he should.
"I didn't learn the playbook well enough," he said. "After I left, I thought I was good enough to play here talent-wise, but I didn't do enough myself to be as good as I could be."
The Bulldogs had Fromm and Justin Fields as their top two quarterbacks last season, with walk-on Matthew Downing serving as the third-stringer and playing in four games. Fields and Downing have since transferred, Fields to Ohio State and Downing to TCU.
That resulted in a need for Bennett, who developed a need for Georgia as soon as he arrived at Jones County.
"When I pulled into campus and saw their dorms — they weren't awful, but they weren't great," Bennett said.
Odds and ends
Sophomore Jamaree Salyer was working Saturday as the first-team right guard, ahead of junior Ben Cleveland. The Bulldogs will resume practicing Tuesday.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.