I’m a Bulldog stuck deep in Tiger country. And, just like most of the country, I couldn’t help but become a Joe Burrow fan during LSU’s recent title run. He was the kind of player you couldn’t help rooting for no matter who you cheered for on Saturdays.
Monday night, my Bulldogs won the College Football National Championship, and we did it with a quarterback who cemented himself as a legend in the state of Georgia. His name is Stetson Bennet, and he came to UGA as a walk on. As a fan, I will always be grateful he brought us to the promised land, a first in my lifetime. And as a mom, I can’t even put into words what it means to have him as a player that my sons look up to and admire.
I have witnessed an endless parade of 4 and 5 star highly touted quarterback recruits come to Athens, and with each one’s arrival, I have declared that this was the guy who was going to take us all the way. And at the end of every season, I would do what Georgia fans do best … say “next year is our year.”
This year finally was our year, and it was a 5’11” walk on who led us there. When I say pretty much everyone doubted this kid, I mean pretty much everyone doubted this kid. But, Stetson believed in himself, and he tuned out the world around him. This summer, he went to Verizon and purchased an old school flip phone. He recognized that the time he was spending on social media and reading the news could be a potential stumbling block to his ultimate goal, and he did something about it. He decided to tune out the noise and just focus on playing ball. What a message I will be happy to remind my kids (and myself) of throughout the years.
I wish I could say that Georgia fans have stood faithfully behind Stetson this season, but every step of the way, many of us have exclaimed loudly that we could never win with a walk on. We would thank him for the wins that he racked up each and every week while begging the coaches to put in a bigger name. At halftime during the national championship game, many of the naysayers were as loud as ever.
Stetson didn’t listen to the doubters or the haters. He grew up in Georgia – a little boy who dreamed of playing for the bulldogs his whole life. He wanted that championship more than any of us – as a player and as a die-hard, lifelong fan. I’m glad he didn’t listen. I’m glad he tuned us out. I’m glad he hit the grind each and every day. I’m glad he stayed off social media and didn’t read all the news. He listened to his coaches and his family and the people in his life that mattered most.
And, then he did it. He did what none of the highly touted quarterback recruits in my 38 years of life had been able to do. He won a national championship for the Georgia Bulldogs. He began to weep, and so did I.
I wept as a fan, but I also wept as a mom. I couldn’t help but think of his parents who have believed in him and poured into him all these years … and here they were watching their son lead their home state team to the National Championship. I wept thinking about how this is the story I will tell my sons over and over again over the course of their lifetime. This is the story of a kid who loved the game of football so darn much, and loved where he was from, and he loved and believed in himself even when others didn’t. And, when everyone told him he wasn’t good enough, he showed us he was on the biggest stage possible.
I hope my sons will heed these lessons. I hope they will identify the things that distract them from their goals and remove them from their lives. I hope they will tune out the noise and the never-ending commentary of social media and learn to listen to their own voice. I hope they realize that the measurement and validation of others means absolutely nothing in the long run. When they DO look to others, I hope they look to their family, their coaches, and the people who love and believe in them no matter what. I hope they know that “failures” are not the opposite of success, but a part of the process. If they have a dream and a goal, I hope they believe in themselves and pursue it even when others tell them it’s impossible.
The headlines about college football these days are about kids being offered college scholarships at 14, coaches making insane amounts of money, players signing million dollar endorsement deals before they ever play a down of college football, players and coaches who have no real allegiance to the school they proclaim to love. None of that is what makes college football magical though. It’s the Stetson Bennetts and the Joe Burrows that make football so darn great. It’s the players that we love to watch and teach us about more than just football along the way.