Photo credit: Mackenzie Miles/Georgia athletics
It was Dec. 16, 2016.
It may not be a day that you remember, but it is a day that will forever be etched in college football history. On that brisk Saturday afternoon, Stetson Bennett received a preferred walk-on offer to play football for the Georgia Bulldogs.
That 2017 recruiting class consisted of another notable Georgia quarterback.
His name? Jake Fromm.
Fromm took the Bulldogs all the way to the national title game as a true freshman, where Bennett watched from the sidelines as a fellow true freshman. Unfortunately, the Dawgs were unable to hold an early lead and ultimately fell short in overtime to Alabama in one of the wildest finishes in the sport’s history, 26-23.
Bennett was stuck in the shadow of a quarterback who took his squad to a national championship game as a true freshman. When the Dawgs added quarterbacks like Justin Fields and JT Daniels, that shadow loomed larger. Even after Bennett proved his worth at the junior college ranks for a year, he was still an afterthought.
There were people in South Georgia who knew what Bennett was capable of. The kid who was called “The Mailman” was a standout for Pierce County High School.
Still, nobody could have foreseen what happened next. Whatever small expectations Bennett had, he blew those out of the water.
The Walk-On Becomes a Legend
More than five years after Bennett received that offer, the former walk-on became a national champion. Check that, the former walk-on led the Bulldogs to a national championship.
Not Jake Fromm.
Not Justin Fields.
And not JT Daniels.
It was Stetson Bennett — the kid who had to go through extremes to prove himself.
The Mailman delivered, and he delivered in the face of extreme pressure, unlike anything he has seen before.
Doubted, Not Defeated
After a loss in the SEC Championship to the Crimson Tide, the heat was turned up on Bennett. Georgia fans across the country screamed in agony. It was the same ol’ story.
Even while Bennett led the Dawgs to an undefeated regular season, he was still living in that shadow. He was doubted, and once again counted out by everyone.
There is no way this undersized walk-on from South Georgia could be the one to win the Bulldogs a title, especially in a room with 5-star signal-callers. He isn’t capable, right?
Bennett could have let the noise get to him. He could have rolled over and given up, but he didn’t.
“I didn’t want to be the reason we lost,” Bennett said following Monday’s 33-18 win over Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
He sure wasn’t. Four years after watching Georgia lose the national title from the sidelines, he came out firing on all cylinders when he finally got a chance to deliver. A strike to Adonai Mitchell to give the Dawgs the lead with eight minutes left will be remembered in Athens forever.
As the clock hit triple zeroes and tears rolled from his eyes, his mission was complete. The Bulldogs were champions for the first time in more than 40 years, and they were led by a former walk-on.
It’s a team game, but Bennett’s story is one to remember.
Is the story over?
We don’t know. In fact, nobody does. Regardless, Bennett will forever be a legend in Athens.
Legendary status isn’t given; it’s earned. After years of working relentlessly behind the scenes, Bennett most definitely got what he deserved.