Stetson Bennett is a Georgia Bulldog. Samford head coach Chris Hatcher thought at one point that Bennett just might be a different shade of Bulldog.

Hatcher recruited Bennett in hopes he’d become a Samford Bulldog. In fact, he recruited him diligently. Hatcher’s college roommate at Valdosta State, Sean Pender, was Bennett’s coach at Pierce County High in Georgia. Hatcher, a Macon, Georgia native and former head football coach at Valdosta State, knows the Bennett family well. He said Stetson attended the Chris Hatcher Quarterback School as a middle school student and ran a 4.65 40-yard dash as a high school player during the Samford football camp.

When Bennett was deciding on a college destination, he took an official visit to Samford. Unfortunately for Hatcher, the visit came during an ice storm in Birmingham. Recruits on an official visit to Samford, at the time, stayed at the Wynfrey Hotel. They were pretty much confined to the hotel and the Galleria that weekend because of the weather. They ate food court meals and spent a lot of time playing video games, ping pong and pool at BumperNets.

Not exactly an ideal recruiting weekend.

Bennett chose to walk on at Georgia and the rest is a history that has been told and retold many times. Hatcher suggests a different narrative to the story.

“All these guys talk about him being a walk-on and downplaying Stetson,” Hatcher said with a little rise to his voice. “Look, Stetson had Middle Tennessee, all the MAC schools, OK, he had Samford and he had Mercer. He chose to walk on at the University of Georgia, okay. Stetson, the guy runs a 4.65 40, he ran [that] right outside of this building on our baseball field at football camp. He’s a tremendous player, one of the best quarterbacks in the country. I thought last year he was really sharp, I thought the other day (in a win over Oregon) he was really sharp. I have the utmost respect for him. He’s a tremendous quarterback, has great talent around him and he knows how to get them the ball on time so that they can make big plays after the catch.”

A year ago, Bennett threw for 2,862 yards and 29 touchdowns and was the offensive player of the game in the national championship game victory over Alabama. In the 2022 opener, he was 25-of-31 for a career-best 368 yards with two touchdowns passing and another rushing.  

“Look, he’s an elite quarterback, I don’t care what anyone says,” Hatcher said. “The guy is a phenomenal player. He makes them go.”

Bennett is just part of the Hatcher and Samford connection to the Georgia football program. A scorecard would come in handy in charting the connections. A partial list includes current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who were on Hatcher’s first staff as the head coach at Valdosta State, and Georgia Director of Football Management Jay Chapman, a Samford graduate, who spent five years as the director of football operations at his alma mater.

“There’s a lot of pieces that kind of fit together with these guys,” Hatcher said.

Smart was 24 years old when he joined Hatcher’s staff. Muschamp had been on the Eastern Kentucky staff before coming to Valdosta.

“First of all, Will was at Eastern Kentucky and I was at the University of Kentucky,” Hatcher said. “I got the job (at Valdosta State) and we had a mutual friend, who told me (Muschamp) was interested in being a defensive coordinator. Within five minutes of the interview, we knew he was the guy. He was a tremendous coach. We had a job open at the very end of the cycle. Kirby was just getting out of playing a little pro ball. Kirby was from Bainbridge, which is a little over an hour from Valdosta. His dad is a legendary coach in the state. My father was a coach as well. We were able to get him on the staff and you knew right away he was a good coach. I was very fortunate.”

Hatcher said Smart and Muschamp made a lasting impression.

“Valdosta State is a power in football,” Hatcher said. “I always tell everybody, those two guys, the mentality they brought to that 2000 and 2001 football teams is still there. That’s why Valdosta State continues to do well, that’s how much respect I have for those two guys.”

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email

Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.