It seemed like former Oregon back-up quarterback Bryan Bennett would spend his college years on the Ducks’ sideline, concealed beneath the shadows of a monster legacy.
So, when Bennett transferred to Southeastern Louisiana for the 2013 FCS football season, most Duck fans thought it was probably the best move for the aspiring young quarterback.
After all, the Ducks had Marcus Mariota. For Oregon, the rest is history.
But what happened to Bennett?
A score of 10’5″ popped up on the 2015 NFL combine board for the broad jump category. Amidst a media storm that hovered above Mariota’s performance throughout the combine, a familiar name had resurfaced and was starting a buzz.
Who led the combine candidates in the broad jump? Bryan Bennett. Bennett’s leap surpassed those of Auburn’s Nick Marshall (10’4″) and Mariota (10’1″). Suddenly, the former Oregon transfer and FCS quarterback from SE Louisiana, had people talking. And not just about his jump.
From beneath the shadows in Eugene to the sweltering bogs of Louisiana, Bennett had arrived at the NFL’s proving ground and single-handedly resurrected his career.
— Trey Tantillo (@tantillo3) February 21, 2015
If a player transfers from an FBS powerhouse to an FCS school, it’s often viewed, unfairly, as a step down. But in Bennett’s case, it was one step backwards, two giant steps forward, and a broad jump upwards to the top of the 2015 individual combine performances. Through a series of tough decisions and years of overcoming obstacles, the southern California native continues to grind with his eyes firmly fixed on the NFL.
“For a long time, it’s been my goal. I want to play sports as long as I can and football was always one of my favorites. The camaraderie, the physical nature of the game. I’ve always admired every moving part. The NFL is what I’ve always wanted to do,” Bennett told Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com.
Rewind the tape.
Bennett’s seemingly boundless dedication to football earned him recognition from his days at Crespi Carmelite High School. According to coaches, Bennett could do it all, playing everything from safety to punter, but he always had his eyes on the quarterback position. After leading the Celts to a Pac-5 CIF championship, it was time for college.
For four years, Bennett had attended the Manning Passing Academy, a training opportunity for talented young quarterbacks to learn from some of the greatest football minds in the country.
He remains dedicated to mastering the quarterback position, combining fundamentals with ferocity and speed. And it was the Crespi High School star’s raw energy and adaptability that attracted a growing Oregon football program.
After Ducks’ head coach Chip Kelly had informed Bennett that Mariota would replace Darron Thomas, Bennett was left looking for playing time. And answers. Eventually, he connected with Archie Manning, who suggested the eager pupil reach out to the coaches at SE Louisiana. The squad welcomed the addition of the experienced Oregon transfer, who quickly went to work at the small southern school.
As starting quarterback for the SE Louisiana Lions in 2013, Bennett led his team in rushing yards (1,046 yards) and broke the school records for passing yards (3,165 yards) and touchdowns (21). The FCS star was named the 2013 Southland Conference Player of the Year and helped his team win a conference championship and first ever NCAA playoff berth.
Throughout the 2014 season, the Lions senior nursed a shoulder injury and his numbers weren’t as explosive as the year before. However, after the regular season, he was tapped for the starting quarterback position in the 2015 Senior Bowl. Mariota had declined due to an injury sustained in the National Championship game and Auburn’s Marshall had moved to cornerback.
With NFL scouts and national media there, Bennett didn’t hesitate, and took a red-eye flight to Mobile, Alabama from San Diego to take part in the game.
“It really comes down to what you’re willing to do. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort to learn, to get things down, you can do it,” Bennett said.
With just weeks before the combine, Bennett kept taking steps to boost his draft stock. He enrolled in the EXOS training camp, along with former Ducks’ defensive lineman Arik Armstead and OSU‘s Sean Mannion, and worked with quarterback trainer Jordan Palmer. The training he received from Palmer and his experience at EXOS served to strengthen his will and gave the rising star confidence in the important weeks ahead.
Bennett’s heart was on display at the combine, grabbing the attention of former NFL quarterback and Bleacher Report writer Chris Simms. Simms is a true believer in Bennett’s ability to make the jump from college to the NFL.
“He doesn’t have to think about his drop, you could tell he was unfazed by the moment of the combine. Every throw he made I thought was very good except for maybe one,” Simms told Bleacher Report. ”When he runs the football, it’s like damn! He ducks his head and he tries to run over everybody. You can tell he has a toughness to him.”
Simms also thinks Bennett’s chances for getting drafted are fairly good. Should Bennett be selected, he would become only the second player ever drafted from SE Louisiana.
A photo posted by Jordan Palmer (@jwpalms) on
When scouts and coaches look at these young players, they are looking for the physical attributes and mental discipline necessary to succeed on the professional level. But they are also looking for grit, toughness, and continued growth.
While on a different stage, Bennett is also making the necessary adjustments. And Duck fans should be excited for this young man who proudly donned the green and yellow.
It’s probable that Bennett will become a professional football player in some capacity, and what happens next may surprise everyone.
Top photo by Kevin Cline