COLUMBIA, S.C. — Jake Bentley, the face of South Carolina football, leaned on a couple of former prominent Gamecocks to navigate through his first year.
Dylan Thompson passed for 5,391 yards and 40 touchdowns over the course of his career at South Carolina before going on to a career in the NFL that’s included stops with the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams.
Among former Gamecock quarterbacks, that’s who Bentley hears from the most.
“He always just reminds me to stay humble, stay in the film room, and just different ways of leading guys,” Bentley said. “I looked to him last year, being the young guy stepping in, what tips he would give me. He gave me a lot. He just helped me through the whole process.”
Former running back Marcus Lattimore, who was coached by Jake’s dad, Bobby, at Byrnes High School, has always been a positive influence.
“Just seeing him and how hard he ran, how hard he worked, it really just drove me to be the best I can be through my young career of middle school or whatever,” Bentley said. “Seeing him is the biggest thing I can remember.”
After throwing for 1,420 yards and 9 touchdowns in seven games last season, Bentley’s quest to finish as one of South Carolina’s all-time great quarterbacks is off to a nice start.
“Growing up in the state, I got to see [a lot] of them come through. I always watched them,” he said. “You look up and see you the names on the [stadium], it makes you want to be like them, one of the greats, but they worked extremely hard and that’s what I’ve got to do to get to their level.”
This season, co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper will give Bentley some freedom to make audibles at the line of scrimmage, which could help South Carolina’s offense another step in the right direction.
“I learned this from [Duke coach] David Cutcliffe a long time ago,” Roper said. “The game is too complex now, to put that onus on the quarterback, so what you do is help him with parameters.
“Now, you will either work plays [as] run-pass or run-run. If we’ve got a pass call that we don’t like versus a certain look, [Bentley] has the ability to change that pass up.”
There are a few keys that will help Bentley determine exactly when a play needs to be changed on the fly.
“You just see little things about a defense that kind of sets off what they’re going to do, little tips that you can see,” he said. “I feel like that’s the main thing that hits you quicker, how the corner is playing, just little tips by the defense that you can pick up on faster.”
The ability to recognize those things stems from a number of factors, including all of the clichés about being coach’s kid and a film junkie.
“This guy is the guy on Thursday night that’s in the film room at 10 o’clock,” Roper said, “So I think football is really, really important to him. Because of that, he really works at it. He’s learned how to study the game.”
Roper commended Bentley for all of the hours he’s logged in the film room with offensive graduate assistant Matthew Symmes, who’s been a “huge help” in developing the Gamecocks quarterback.
“Jake and Matt spend a lot of time together when I’m out recruiting and things like that,” Roper said. “It’s just really helped Jake progress in how to study film, what he’s looking for and it’s basically trying to get command of our system, our offense.”