Stetson Bennett leads Georgia to back-to-back national titles, driven by family of faith

The story of Stetson Bennett IV became legendary when the quarterback led the Georgia Bulldogs to the national championship last season. The legend grew even larger Monday night when Bennett turned in one of the most dominant performances in college football history, leading Georgia to the largest win in national championship history.

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The Bulldogs crushed TCU, 65-7, in the College Football Playoff National Championship at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, with the 58-point win going down as the largest margin of victory in all college football bowl games ever played. And the Bulldogs (15-0) became the first team since Alabama in 2011 and 2012 to win back-to-back national titles.

Bennett was named the game’s Offensive MVP after throwing for 304 yards and four touchdowns, along with 39 rushing yards and two more touchdowns. Coupled with winning the award last year as well, he becomes the first player to claim the award twice.

The final game of Bennett’s college career couldn’t have ended any better. And the fact that this is his reality is hard to imagine. Coming out of Pierce County High School in Blackshear, Georgia, his only scholarship offer from an FBS program was from Middle Tennessee State. But all he wanted to do was play for Georgia, where he watched dozens of games as a kid after his parents met and graduated from UGA. So he walked onto the team in 2017, and became one of four players to earn Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year honors.

He wanted to play real games, though, so he transferred to Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Mississippi, and played well enough there to earn a scholarship back at Georgia. But he backed up Jake Fromm in 2019, and had to earn the starter’s job in 2020 and 2021 as Georgia brought in transfers and five-star recruits to battle with him.

Bennett took over as the starter for good in Week 5 of the 2021 season, and has lost only one game since. In all, he’s 29-3 as a starter, he was a Heisman Trophy finalist this season, and he’s now a two-time national champion.

“I didn’t dream this,” Bennett told ESPN on the stage after being named the Offensive MVP on Monday. “I was just trying to do my job and we ended up here. I don’t know.”

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart is sure glad Bennett was willing to come back to the Bulldogs.

“He didn’t cry, pout, leave or transfer,” Smart told the Athens Banner-Herald in October 2020. “He just kept working and working, and when he got the opportunity, he took advantage of it.”

Bennett’s father, Stetson Bennett III, believes it was an opportunity from God.

“The Lord gave him an opportunity to show everybody,” he told the Banner-Herald.

During the ESPN broadcast of the Heisman ceremony, Bennett III was asked how his son was able to reach his ultimate goal of playing at Georgia.

“Everyone that asks that question,” he said. “I tell ’em two things: One, how good the Lord is. And two, just the fact that he never gave up. I’ve told him his entire life that he can do anything in the world that he wants to do, but he can’t just want it, you got to go to work. That’s what he did.”

Much of that work by Bennett IV prior to Georgia was under the direction of Bennett III, who once was a walk-on option quarterback at Georgia Southern, but ultimately transferred to Georgia to study pharmacy. He didn’t play as long as his oldest son has, but he understands the game, and has used it to also impart Biblical wisdom.

According to the Macon Telegraph, Bennett III experienced a “head salvation” in third grade, and later a “heart salvation” in March 2019. “I just gave it all to the Lord, said, ‘Lord, You use me any way You want and I’m going to do what You say to do,’” Bennett III said.

With Bennett IV yearning to climb the depth chart in the 2020 preseason, his father read him Nehemiah 4:14: “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”

Later, as Bennett IV prepared for his first career start, friends asked Dad if he was nervous. Bennett III responded with Ephesians 2:4-5: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved.”

The family’s legacy of faith can be traced back to Stetson Bennett Sr., who was a farmer in south Georgia that bootlegged moonshine to supplement his income. When his 2-year old daughter, Violet, died of pneumonia, he gave up bootlegging and devoted his life to Jesus.

“Most people don’t come to Christ when everything’s going great,” Bennett III told the Macon Telegraph. “When they’ve got a great job and a wife that loves them and plenty of money, that’s usually not when you come to Christ. It’s usually when you’re broken.”

Bennett Sr. became a preacher, riding donkeys or mules or walking to different churches every Sunday to preach. His son, Stetson Bennett Jr., earned a football scholarship to Auburn, but injuries cut his career short. He got married and later only had daughters, so when his younger brother, Richard, had a son in 1969, they named him Stetson Bennett III.

Bennett III married Denise, and together they have Bennett IV, three other sons and a daughter. In Denise’s Instagram bio, she lists Philipians 2:3: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”

On Monday, after cementing his place as one of the greatest college quarterbacks of all time and receiving a standing ovation upon leaving the game early in the fourth quarter, Bennett IV was asked on the field about what he would say to his hometown of Blackshear and all the people there who believed in him throughout his career.

“That’s God’s country,” he told ESPN. “It’s the greatest place on earth and it made me who I am today.”

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