Whether losing or winning a championship, or just the endless matches on the playground, sports builds a certain resiliency inside of you. This doesn’t necessarily require you to be a star player, a starter, or even a major piece of the team for that matter. You just need to experience the hardships of defeat and the joy in victory.
Ultimately, what makes sports special is the ability for people to come together to push themselves to new heights and limits in order to achieve a common goal.
But what about the game of American football? I’ve never played organized football but I would guess that when it comes to individual growth on the field this same resilience is transferable in any team setting that is cohesive. One name that comes to mind is a young man who rallied his team to that common goal as an unlikely suitor: Stetson Bennett IV, the quarterback out of the University of Georgia.
Bennett will soon be an NFL player when he gets drafted this spring. This will be his reward for winning a national championship earlier this month. But Stetson’s story was not promised. It was never given, but rather 100% earned. He was not seen as elite nor a star at the beginning. Most scouting reports said he had an average arm.
Average does not cut it for SEC football.
The best thing said about him in scouting reports was that he would be a backup quarterback at best. I’m not sure this is exactly praise. Bennett did not receive one scholarship from a single Power 5 football program. This would deter even the most talented underdog.
Instead of going to a small school, Stetson enrolled at the University of Georgia. He walked onto the football team, where he would only really see practice time. At this point, Bennett would have more in common with the movie Rudy than a top-tier QB in the SEC. Despite pulling this off, Bennett would leave Georgia at the end of his freshman year, to play football at Jones College in Mississippi.
At Jones, a place known for building the careers of collegiate unsung heroes, Bennett would throw for just under 2,000 passing yards and 16 total touchdowns. Here’s where things get interesting. The now Chicago Bear, Justin Fields, transferred to Ohio State while Bennett was at Jones. Fields felt he would likely never surpass the now New York Giant Jake Fromm, the anointed starter at the time. This opened up a scholarship for Stetson to come back right where it all began, only this time he had a scholarship.
Even then, Bennett was placed as an option behind Jamie Newman and Dewan Mathis. There was no chance in hell Bennett would see the field. The coaches even told him this. When faced with rejection after rejection, Bennett could have stopped trying and accepted defeat. He could have told himself that he would never play at UGA and just earn a degree.
The same could be said for writers. How many times have you been told, “this isn’t what we are looking for” by a rejection letter? I know I can’t personally count anymore. It’s well into the hundreds. I was once told by an editor that I “don’t write real poetry”. How is this any different from people saying that Bennett had a mediocre arm?
Here’s where things get really interesting. When the COVID-19 pandemic first began, Jamie Newman decided to opt-out of playing college football. To make matters worse for the Bulldogs, Dewan Mathis struggled early on when called up, and later that season he decided to transfer to Temple University. Bennett was now the next man up. His opportunity had finally arrived.
Bennett could have literally thrown in the towel. Nobody believed in him. This could be you in a writing group, or even a writing program. An editor could tell you you have no chance. In the face of that, be like Stetson Bennett. Never give up.
By the end of the 2020 season, he had started most of Georgia’s games. This honeymoon was short-lived, however. In his senior year, Bennett was benched for rising star JT Daniels. Most people would have been crushed. This would have been the straw that broke Bennett. But resiliency had gotten him this far, why quit now? As much as it probably hurt, Stetson did not complain. He humbly held his head down and stayed ready—in case he was ever called upon again.
And the Bulldogs sure did call him back up when Daniels went down with an injury this fall. Bennett was sent back to lead the team. By the end of the 2021 season, he took Georgia to the promised land—the 2022 college football playoffs, and eventually a national championship victory over esteemed powerhouse Alabama.
I don’t know what kept Bennett going during this carousel of changes. Maybe he dared greatly as Brené Brown teaches us. I do know, however, that Bennett’s tenacity in the face of adversity should be admired, and embodied to whatever you pursue relentlessly. That is what I will take from him to my own writing practice.
From Bennett, we can learn to believe in ourselves, even when nobody else does, and dream big while doing it. What do you have to lose by dreaming beyond your wildest expectations? Nothing. At worst, you can be wrong which puts you back at square one. But if you dream big while believing in yourself and your dreams come true? Well, that’s even sweeter.