COLUMBIA, S.C. – Jake Bentley’s schedule was clearly defined last weekend.
The South Carolina freshman quarterback took his weekend off to return to Opelika (Ala.) to watch his should-be teammates play. He led the team’s postgame prayer and cheered from the sideline as Opelika won 38-37. He spent time with his high school coach, Brian Blackmon, who was excited to catch up with a former player who he says is like his own kid.
But what lies ahead this weekend for Bentley is less clear. He might be standing on the South Carolina sideline once again. He could be the second true freshman quarterback to play for the Gamecocks this season.
Blackmon doesn’t know what is coming, but he knows what he heard in Bentley’s voice last weekend.
“He was just talking like a guy who was ready to play,” Blackmon said. “He was talking like a guy who felt confident that he would be able to do this.”
Whether he gets that opportunity Saturday against Massachusetts at Williams-Brice Stadium has yet to be announced. Coach Will Muschamp has done little to squash the buzz that the talented freshman and son of running backs coach Bobby Bentley is set to make his college debut. He also has not come out and said Bentley will play, just that the Gamecocks have “a good plan” in place at quarterback.
Blackmon heaped heavy praise on Bentley on Thursday afternoon. He lauded his physical skills, including his sneaky ability to run. He described Bentley as a winner with a contagious passion for the game, on top of a drive to be a great quarterback. He saw those traits – all the checkmarks a college coach wants in a quarterback, he said – for two years at Opelika. He was set to see them for a third year, but Bentley elected to forgo his senior season entirely and enroll at South Carolina over the summer.
Now, Blackmon wouldn’t be surprised if Bentley is capable of starting halfway through his freshman season when he should be a senior in high school. He’s even more sure of it after spending last weekend with Bentley.
“I think he’s really gained a lot of confidence in his knowledge of the game,” Blackmon said. “He talked a lot about how much smarter he felt like he was as a quarterback today compared to this time last year. Just in understanding coverages and understanding the pass protections. The biggest thing when they make that jump – the speed of the game is big – but each system is different. He had to go in and learn a new system.
“Just listening to him talk, it was like talking to (quarterbacks coach Kurt) Roper. He sounded like he really had pretty good command of their offense. For a guy that just got there in June to have that understanding and to not only have it, but to feel really good about it, it was that confidence that I could hear coming from his voice.”
The 6-foot-3, 223-pound Bentley and Blackmon have talked almost every week through this season. But they haven’t discussed any timetable on Bentley possibly playing and Blackmon said he has not heard if he will be on the field this week. He has been reading all the latest, noting that Bentley has been getting more practice reps and the coaches now have a decision to make moving forward.
“I know this: He made a comment that if he was given an opportunity to play, he would be ready to play,” Blackmon said. “That’s what I always told him anyway when he first left. I said, ‘You’ve gotta prepare as if you’re going to be the starter whether you’re redshirting or not. It’s better to be prepared for an opportunity and never got one than to get one and not be prepared.’
“Just the sound in his voice sounded like he was ready if he was called on. When you’re reading all that, you don’t wanna put too much into it because if he and I are having that conversation and he gets excited and the coaches decide that’s not the direction they wanted to go, then it’s kinda a letdown. I’m trying to make sure he approaches this the same way he did when he was traveling and knew he wasn’t going to play.”
Blackmon has done his best to watch South Carolina games this season, as defensive end Boosie Whitlow also played for him at Opelika. He plans on tuning in again Saturday when the Gamecocks play UMass and is even mulling around the idea of making the trip up to Columbia.
Maybe Bentley will be on the field then. Maybe he won’t be. But Blackmon’s confidence in Bentley was reinforced during a weekend of “watching ball and talking about ball”
“I think whether he’s successful this Saturday or he’s successful down the road, I’m a believer in Jake Bentley,” Blackmon said. “I think that his future is very bright. I think that he is going to be, at some point in his career, the face of South Carolina’s football program. I think they are very lucky to have a guy not only with his skill set, but with his character in that role.”