OPELIKA, Ala. — In the Bentley household, when a game reaches halftime on the television, the rest of the world probably already knows who won.
Two men are usually responsible for giving the DVR a workout.
Suspect No. 1 is Shuler, the second-oldest of four sons, who’s a redshirt sophomore quarterback at Old Dominion. No. 2 is the dad, Bobby, South Carolina’s running backs coach.
But they’re not the only football junkies under a roof that was put in place by pigskin.
There’s also the oldest brother, Chas Dodd, a former Rutgers quarterback-turned-intern with the South Carolina football team. And third in the line of boys is future South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley.
“We’ll be watching a game at home and they’ll see something on defense and they’ll rewind a play three and four times, just talk about it,” Jake said. “We’ll just all talk about it, go through the whole play and what will be a good offensive play to run against the defense that they have out there.
“It takes us five hours to watch a two-and-a-half-hour game, because they just want to rewind it and learn, just get better.”
To say football is in Jake’s blood would be an understatement.
Bobby won more than 100 games as the coach at Byrnes (S.C.) High School, which included a stretch of four consecutive state championships. Between stints at Byrnes, Bentley was also the coach at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C. He spent the last two years at Auburn on Gus Malzahn’s staff in an off-field capacity.
Dodd threw for over 10,000 yards and won two state championships at Byrnes before his career at Rutgers, where he had 21 touchdown passes over 19 career games. After college, he played in the Italian Football League.
Shuler set several South Carolina high school passing records at Byrnes and was a two-time state Gatorade Player of the Year. In 10 games as a redshirt freshman at ODU, he passed for over 1,400 yards and threw 12 touchdowns.
Jake developed into a four-star recruit during his two years at Opelika High School, but a majority of his formative years were spent in Spartanburg County.
“Just seeing my brothers and the quarterbacks at Byrnes, I was on the sidelines and in the meetings,” Jake said. “I was just sitting there and soaking it all in through Willy Korn and Trey Elder, all of those guys that came through, and to see my brothers do it, especially Shuler, he knows the game better than anyone that I know.
“He’s always learning something, wanting to know more, so I really pushed myself to be more like him and more like the quarterbacks that came before me.”
Opelika coach Brian Blackmon is most impressed by Jake’s understanding of the game.
“He’s a great leader, a very good competitor, probably as good a competitor that I’ve been around. He hates to lose,” Blackmon said. “He works his tail off. I think he’s a coachable kid. I think he’s a guy that makes the players around him better. If you say that about a football player, it doesn’t matter what position they play.
“We haven’t said anything yet about arm-strength, about accuracy, about running ability. All of those are talent-driven and he has all of those things, but I don’t think that’s what separates him as a quarterback. I think what separates him as a quarterback are the intangible things that you don’t see — the work ethic, the leadership ability, the knowledge of the game and those kind of things that what separates him as a quarterback.”
Jake will graduate from Opelika early, and is scheduled to report to South Carolina before the end of the month. His mom, Paulette, along with his younger brother and sister, Brooks and Emily, are also preparing for a move back to South Carolina.
The family’s migration to the Columbia area comes as a bit of relief to Paulette. Gone are the days of 11-hour road trips from South Carolina to Piscataway, N.J., which were eventually replaced by 11-hour drives from Opelika to Norfolk, Va. This fall, rides to watch Shuler play won’t be nearly as long, and now that Williams-Brice Stadium is home for the foreseeable future, life can be a little bit more manageable.
Paulette’s also pretty excited that her husband will be on the same team this fall with two of their sons. Just like the good old days.
Bobby’s presence at South Carolina certainly didn’t hurt the odds that Jake would sign with the Gamecocks, but there was never any pressure from home to make that move.
“We were just there for Jake, but we let Jake make the decision on whether he was going to graduate early, and I didn’t want him to have the pressure of having Bobby at Carolina, to make him want to go to Carolina and that be the only reason,” Paulette said. “We know in college coaching, we know that we don’t know what next year holds. We wanted him to make sure that he knew where he wanted to go and that it was a fit for him as a student, not necessarily just football, especially with what Chas went through.
“He had four coordinators in four years, so we know not to base it on football, we know to base it on how you feel about the campus and academics and all that, because football might not be the same the whole four years you’re there, coaching-wise.
“We let (Jake) make the decision. We were there to answer any questions he had and help him with pros and cons. But we let him make the decision. He’s mature enough to make that decision, with graduating early and going to Carolina.”
Blackmon’s emotions were a little more mixed.
“It’s hard to see him go, because I care about him, love him like he’s my own kid,” he said. “But I know that God’s got a great plan for him and that his future is really bright, so I’m excited for what is coming for him, too. I think he’s going to be a guy that’s really going to surprise people.”
Fortunately for Jake, he’ll have plenty of folks to offer guidance and words of wisdom along the way.
“Chas and Shuler have said to just block out both distractions and really just focus on football,” he said. “In college, there are going to be even more distractions than there are in high school, and to just focus and get the job done.”
Up first on the to-do list?
“I really just want to be the best teammate I can be for the team, do whatever I can to help the team win games, whether that’s as the starting quarterback or holding the clipboard, signaling plays,” Jake said. “I just want to be the best at what I do. Obviously, I want to be the starting quarterback — I’m going to work every day to do that, but I just want to be the best (teammate) that I can be.”