Last week, Georgia football quarterback, team captain and national champion Stetson Bennett was named a finalist in this year’s Burlsworth Trophy. That honor is one of many trophy finalist lists the quarterback has found himself on this year.
Let’s unwrap that statement for a moment. A former walk-on who fought for his right to play on the team is now one of the faces of the Georgian football program. He could even lead his team to another national championship. Bennett was supposed to be in contention for Heisman, which would be quite the rags to riches storyline. It’s the kind of story Disney will make a movie about in the future – he might be the better Rudy of our time.
The Burlsworth Trophy is awarded to the country’s top player who began his career as a walk-on. Bennett was also a finalist last year, following in the footsteps of Rodrigo Blankenship, who was a finalist in 2019.
Stetson Bennett won many awards after his final season with Georgia Football.
As much as Bennett’s career is now both heralded and decorated, the former mailman, now Milkman’s journey to quarterback has not been an easy one. A 2-star recruit out of high school, Bennett was not a frequent recruit and was not pursued by the team he was dying to play for, Georgia.
Bennett continued in Georgia and didn’t play any snaps in his freshman year in Athens. While he was a Scout Team phenomenon, starting was out of the picture. After Justin Fields signed to the Bulldogs that year, Bennett decided to transfer to Jones County Junior College.
Following his season with Jones County, Bennett opted for another transfer, with the option of moving to Louisiana under then-head coach Billy Napier. However, a turn of events led to Fields deciding to transfer to Ohio State and Bennett returned to Athens. The rest, they say, is history, though Bennett continues to confound his critics to this day. It seems that a walk-on’s job is never done.
“[I’m]proud of him and what he represents, how he represents our university,” head coach Kirby Smart said of Bennett’s nomination during last week’s SEC Coaches conference call. “All the things he has overcome, from advancing into high school to leading our team – he has done a tremendous job and it is a great honor to be recognized as a finalist for this award.”
Smart knew Brendan Burlsworth from his days as a coach at Colts camp and was happy to share his thoughts on the Burlsworth Trophy and the walk-on mentality.
“It probably won’t get enough recognition,” Smart said. “There’s no bigger story in any program than a kid earning a scholarship – to be recognized as a former day leaver and to be considered the best in the country to do so is an honor from hell. Most of them are chip on shoulder lads who have overcome a lot and most of them were told they weren’t good enough – so they walked. And they proved everyone wrong.”
The mentality of the career changer differs from other players who have already received their scholarship. Walk-ons that make it to scholarship seem like a breed all their own with something to prove and tirelessly pursuing their dream of playing soccer. Something the Georgia head coach emphasized when speaking to the press about Brandon Burlsworth and players like him this week.
This year’s other finalists are Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell and Troy University linebacker Carlton Martial. Bennett and Martial are repeat finalists from last year, losing to Grant Morgan of Arkansas.
Bennett will hope the second time brings good luck for him. He’s the best former walk-on in the country, and anyone who denies that doesn’t realize how good Bennett is. Hopefully those voting on this award will see that and give him the recognition he deserves. Can he be overlooked with a resume like his this year?