The world needs more heroes like Stetson Bennett IV. His story has captured our hearts as we learn more about him in the wake of the University of Georgia bringing home the National Championship for the first time in 41 years.

Now, maybe those who follow sports regularly already knew the whole story, and maybe there are even those UGA sports fans out there who are still not sure about who should have been quarterback last Monday night. But there is no doubt in my mind that the world at large needed Stetson in that moment.

It could be because I was isolating after a possible omicron exposure, or maybe it was because January is always a bit dreary, but I was all ready to watch that game, and filled with hope that this would be Georgia’s time.

So I cooked some chili, set out some chips and dip, and got ready for game time. My husband and I donned our red and black and prepared to watch on our small screen TV.

I had to leave the room the first half. I couldn’t really see anyway as my husband was standing up close in front of the set giving some sort of direction to the team.

But after calming down at the half, we settled back in. Hope built. It was a combination of defense, taking chances, and just pure drive. I wanted to join Kirby Smart running along the sidelines I was so happy.

But what brought tears to my eyes was that the quarterback had tears in his eyes. That the moment was that special to him. That he had fought his way from a small south Georgia town, to a place on the team. It didn’t come easy to him. He had to fight all the way, started as a walk-on, transferred to a small junior college in Mississippi, came back to my alma mater one year later with a scholarship in his hand.

That Stetson Bennett IV seems so innocent, so unspoiled, and so grateful to all those around him is an inspiration, a breath of fresh air.

I graduated from UGA way back in 1974. In those days, the stadium was so small. Somehow my dad got his hands of 50-yard-line season tickets those years my sister and I attended college there. I rarely missed a game. My father was at every one, rain or shine, cheering our team on. Many times, he would be shouting, “Put Goff in,” when he thought the quarterback Coach Vince Dooley had in was not doing his job.

I remember those times so well. And they seem like such simpler times than those we live in now.

Many of you may remember Cherokee Tribune news reporter Josh Sharpe, who now writes for the AJC. What you might not know is that his father, Randy Sharpe, was chosen by Vince Dooley in 1973 to go to UGA to play football as a running back. But he hurt his knees and eventually became a trainer and high school recruiter for the Dogs.

Josh’s dad moved to Waycross after his college days, met and married Josh’s mother, and became director of the Waycross/Ware County Recreation Department.

Like Stetson Bennett, and legions of other young football players, from his early days Randy Sharpe dreamed of playing for the Bulldogs. I feel like Bennett’s win was a win for everyone who loves UGA and football.

Josh’s dad died young at just 54 years of age and is buried in the UGA letterman cemetery in Athens. He wanted to have his ashes scattered at Sanford Stadium, but his family instead chose a resting place in the Bulldog Haven in the shadow of the stadium he loved so much.

Most of us will never get a chance to win the big one, to become a national hero. But we can all take lessons from Stetson Bennett IV. We can strive to make the most of what we have, never give up on our dreams, find new ways to realize them, work hard to make a difference in this world.

We can remember to thank those around us for what they do, give more hugs — I have never seen so many hugs at a football game. Show joy when the moment calls for it. Celebrate others instead of ourselves. And when something does go our way, be thankful.

In this crazy, mixed up world we now live in, the universal love of sports, of supporting our team, our player, or just watching for fun on the sidelines, helps bring us all back together.

I am happy my team won the National Championship, but for me what makes this moment great is that the team was led by someone like Stetson Bennett IV.

Rebecca Johnston is a lifelong Cherokee County resident and former managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.


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