ATLANTA — Luke Bennett had narrowed his options to three choices: Florida State, Georgia and New Hampshire.
The first two possibilities came as a preferred walk-on and the third was on scholarship. Only one of those schools, however, could offer the 5-foot-11 wide receiver one season he would truly never forget.
A chance to play with his older brother, Stetson.
“One year playing with ‘Stet,’ I couldn’t give that up for anything,” Luke told The Post on Thursday from the College Football Hall of Fame at Peach Bowl media day. “I was given the opportunity, and I ran with it.”
Due to their six-year age gap — Stetson is 25 and Luke is 19 — the Bennett brothers had never played on the same team, making this season even more memorable. After helping Georgia win its first national championship since 1980 last January, Stetson has added to his hard-to-believe underdog story this year. The one-time walk-on, Georgia’s version of “Rudy,” has set career-highs in completion percentage (68.1) and yards (3,425) while producing 27 total touchdowns (20 through the air) and finishing fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting. And Luke has been along for the ride.
Before every practice, the brothers from Blackshear, a town of 3,500 in southern Georgia, give each other a high-five as they pass one another at the 50-yard-line before joining their respective position groups. On occasion, Luke will catch a pass from Stetson. Most important, they are experiencing this undefeated season together, Stetson’s final year at Georgia and Luke’s first.
“It’s awesome,” Luke said. “We played plenty of ball in the backyard together, but never a real game or even practiced together. It just reminds you of old times.”
Added Stetson: “I wouldn’t say a miracle, but it almost is. It’s super-lucky.”
Some would describe Stetson’s journey, to within two wins of becoming the rare two-time national championship-winning quarterback, in similar fashion. He started his Georgia career as a walk-on, went to junior college and returned to the SEC school after nearly signing with Louisiana-Lafayette. He was the backup last year to J.T. Daniels at the outset, but after Daniels suffered an oblique injury that kept him out a few weeks, Stetson Wally Pipp’d him, taking over for good.
Stetson, nicknamed “The Mailman’’ because he once wore a U.S. Postal Service hat to a showcase camp while in high school, took time to reflect on it this week. If he had to experience it all at once, he probably wouldn’t be sane, Stetson joked. He admitted to disliking some of his coaches at times, believing they were intentionally holding him back, an opinion Kirby Smart didn’t necessarily disagree with.
“He overcame so much,” Smart, the Georgia coach, said. “He overcame us. We didn’t put the guy out there. He came and met with me, and he wanted more reps. We tried to give him more reps. Every spring game he went with the 3s, he had success. It’s like what more can the guy do?”
Even without a second title, Stetson will go down in Georgia lore as the quarterback who was able to get the Bulldogs over the hump after 41 years. Who defied the odds as an under-recruited and undersized prospect nobody gave much of a chance. It’s a role Luke now finds himself in, trying to work his way up the ladder in a sea of elite recruits. He doesn’t believe there is any added pressure following in his brother’s footsteps at Georgia. There is inspiration, though.
“He’s a great person to look up to,” Luke said. “It’s motivating, it’s humbling. You learn a lot from him.”