The Underdog QB Who Traveled More Than 4,000 Miles in Search of Elite 11 Invite

Damon Sayles@@DamonSaylesNational Recruiting AnalystApril 27, 2016

Some quarterbacks will compete in two Elite 11 regional competitions a year. Blackshear, Georgia, quarterback Stetson Bennett IV has competed in five. Wearing a U.S. Postal Service hat, he's earned the nicknames "Mailman" and "Postman" on the camp circuit.
Some quarterbacks will compete in two Elite 11 regional competitions a year. Blackshear, Georgia, quarterback Stetson Bennett IV has competed in five. Wearing a U.S. Postal Service hat, he's earned the nicknames "Mailman" and "Postman" on the camp circuit.Credit: Student Sports

Hitting five cities over the span of two months, Stetson Bennett IV wasn't going to let distance stop him from pursuing his dreams.

This spring, the Elite 11 regional tour became a second home of sorts for Bennett, an unrated quarterback from Blackshear, Georgia. Of the tour's first nine stops, Bennett made appearances at five of them: Orlando, Miami, Atlanta, Washington D.C. and Charlotte.

Looking to do the math? Bennett and his family traveled roughly 4,052 miles round trip in attempting to land an Elite 11 finals invitation, paying for flights to Miami (approximately 814 miles to and from) and Washington D.C. (1,378), and contributing gas money for trips to Orlando (524), Atlanta (594) and Charlotte (742).

If nothing else, that's dedication.

"It was something I really wanted," Bennett, the starting quarterback at Pierce County High School in Georgia, said. "It was the competition; I wanted to see where I am with the best of the best. I saw what I needed to do to get better. It's hard to judge yourself when you're in a small town and don't really know what's out there."

Bennett didn't earn an Elite 11 finals invite, but he now has numerous camp stories and memories from each event. He also has a few new nicknames that may stick long after high school.

"They call me 'Mailman,'" Bennett said. "Some of the coaches call me 'Postman.'"

Metaphorically, both nicknames fit a stud quarterback, particularly when that quarterback has traits relating to delivery, being on time, productivity and overall success rate. From a literal stance, however, Bennett explains the nicknames with a tip of his hat, a denim-colored U.S. Postal Service cap he wore at every competition.

"I've been called 'Mailman,' 'Postman,' 'Stetson,' 'Guy with the hat,' everything," he said. "I think it's cool that some of the wide receivers recognized me. They knew I'd been at this camp or that camp. The coaches who travel all recognized me. It's been pretty cool." 

One day Bennett will reminisce about how hectic—yet exciting—the spring of 2016 was for him. 

Chasing the Dream

QBHitList.com @QBHitList

Cool pics from @Elite11 DC of @QBHitList Premium 2017 QB @StetsonIV worked his way into Top 5. His stock is rising! https://t.co/eNj1Acyk0z

There are some who may ask the question, "Why?" Why would an athlete make so many trips and pay so much out of pocket to chase an invitation to the Elite 11 finals?

Stetson Bennett III, Bennett's father and the owner of three pharmacies in a 30-mile radius, fully understands chasing a dream. He played high school football and was a walk-on quarterback at Georgia Southern in the late 1980s. He's watched his oldest of five children—who he calls "Stet"—develop into a savvy quarterback. He still remembers his son learning about three-step drops at age three.

"I've got a picture with Stet and Trent Dilfer from four years ago when we first watched how everything was done," Mr. Bennett said. "We're talking about a goal he had four, five years ago. He's been working towards that goal. This journey didn't start in Orlando. My job as a daddy is to put my children in the best position for them to succeed as possible. He wanted Elite 11, and I couldn't have him not get the opportunity to go for it."

Credit: Student Sports

Bennett said he isn't planning on attending any more events, even though there are five remaining Elite 11 regionals nationwide in the month of May. Priorities have now shifted to his baseball team, as he's the starting shortstop and leadoff hitter for Pierce County.

His efforts, however, didn't go unnoticed. Brian Stumpf, president of sports for Student Sports, which puts on the Elite 11 camps, praised Bennett for his work ethic and commitment to honing his craft, and he is expecting to see him do well at the college level.

"If 'want to' was a measurable, he'd be at the top of the charts," Stumpf said of Bennett. "There are numerous success stories of kids that don't necessarily check the height/weight/physical stature column but love the game and will eat, sleep and breathe it." 

Origin of the Hat

Next Level Athletix @NxtLevelAtx

Fitting that @StetsonIV wore a US Mail hat to the @Elite11 Charlotte. The guy just flat out delivered. #Dude https://t.co/SC2zvOQ7Sj

Bennett never figured his headgear would be one of the best marketing tools of The Opening and Elite 11 regional circuits. All he wanted originally was to be noticed. At 6'0" and 171 pounds, Bennett doesn't have what some scouts would call prototypical size for a quarterback.

He needed something to help him stand out among the multiple quarterbacks.

"My buddy's father is the mayor of a small town around here, and he's always getting cool things," Bennett said. "I saw the hat one day and asked if I could wear it. I first wore it to a camp in Valdosta [Georgia]. I'm not real big or striking physically, but I wanted to have something people would remember me by."

The camp circuit has seen a variety of ways where players are able to garner attention, from bleached hair to pink cleats and anything in between. This year was the first time an athlete wore a U.S. Postal Service hat in competition.

"He came up with the idea himself," Bennett's father said. "We went to the camp in Miami, and he had that hat on. People started talking about 'The Mailman.' I was thinking, 'Boy, that son of a gun has come up with something.' He's worn it everywhere he's gone, in every competition. It's worked well for him."

One person who instantly recognized Bennett's hat was Paul Troth, an Elite 11 alum who flourished at East Carolina. Troth remembered Bennett at the Miami regional in March, and the conversations ultimately shifted from identifying the player in the hat to discussing whether he was good enough to compete in half-skelly showdowns, the final event of the day to help determine camp MVP winners.

"His pace and velocity on the ball is pretty good," Troth said. "I think schools that run the spread will be able to overlook his size, and he's not even that small. He does a good job competing and is a guy I'd definitely be able to build my offense around, especially nowadays with the diverse offenses around."

Bennett advanced to half-skelly showdowns in Miami and Washington D.C.; however, Florida 4-star commit Jake Allen won Miami MVP honors, and Maryland 4-star commit Kasim Hill won D.C. MVP honors.

On Sunday in Charlotte, Bennett wasn't selected for the half-skelly, but instead of focusing on the negative, he chose to look at the situation he's in. Few players have the chance to compete in multiple events, and an even smaller number of athletes saw success at the camps like Bennett did.

"All the cities were different," he said, "but overall, it was awesome seeing all the different talent around the country and where I was with the talent."

Seeing the Big Picture

Stetson Bennett III @StetsonIII

Up @ 3am for @TheOpening Jax 2 DC. Made it to pressure cooker round Top 5 QB @Elite11 @StetsonIV @RisingSeniors https://t.co/VPOx0vM6DN

Bennett has college football bloodlines. His father was at Georgia Southern, and his grandfather is Buddy Bennett, who played quarterback at South Carolina from 1958-60.

At Pierce County, Bennett threw for 2,924 yards and 23 touchdowns as a junior, per MaxPreps. He also rushed for 610 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Bennett has two scholarship offers so far. He has an in-state offer from FCS school Mercer and an Ivy League offer from Columbia—and an ACT score of 29 to go along with it.

Competing in the Elite 11 finals was always a goal for Bennett, but so was playing college football. Although the Elite 11 dream may not come to fruition, Bennett said he plans on using the multiple tips from the event coaching staff to help him become a better player.

"All the footwork drills and mainly having a sense of urgency about yourself...I learned a lot," he said. "I heard someone say, 'Aim small, miss small.' That was something that really stuck out."

Troth added: "He's willing to compete, and he's not afraid to go against anyone in the country. He thinks highly of himself, but I also think he knows he needs to get better at a lot of different things. He's willing to be coached, and he wants to compete. He's put in a good showing for all of our coaches."

This weekend, while the Elite 11 takes its tour to New Jersey, Bennett will do his part to assist his baseball team, which begins its playoff run with a doubleheader Friday. Additionally, Bennett runs track for his school, and despite not having major sprinter's training, qualified for sectional competition Saturday in the 100-meter dash.

If the baseball team sweeps Friday, Bennett said he will run at sectionals the next day.

The Mail Man. @StetsonIV

QB got third in the region in the 100 😏 headed to sectionals! https://t.co/jyEimupiNe

If Bennett changes his mind and gives the Elite 11 dream one more chance, he'll have an opportunity to sign up for stops in Columbus, Ohio (May 7), Chicago, Illinois (May 14), Oakland, California (May 22) and Seattle, Washington (May 28).

If he's truly chosen to focus his attention elsewhere, he'll always have the stories—as well as his trusty hat that helped him become a household name around Elite 11 followers.

"He'll get direct messages asking 'How's the Mailman.' He's made an impact," Mr. Bennett said. "Anytime you can get the respect of your peers and your coaches, that's pretty special."

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles


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