South Alabama QB Jake Bentley (13)
Photo | Mike Kittrell
Most of his teammates and coaches had already left the field, making their way through the Jaguar-logoed gates toward the South Alabama locker room. Jake Bentley lingered. He looked around Hancock Whitney Stadium, taking it all in one last time. He offered and received hugs from some of those who made their way from the stands to the field and he waved goodbye to others.
He was hesitant, recognizing that when he left the field that would mark the end of his college football career, of his time as a football player. He wasn’t in any rush to reach that reality.
Standing in the end zone, South Alabama head coach Kane Wommack, he too taking his time leaving the field, spotted Bentley to his left. The coach approached his quarterback and the two embraced, sharing some words and the moment. And then Bentley headed toward the gate, toward his future, toward his new reality.
South Alabama’s 27-21 overtime loss to Coastal Carolina last Friday was the Jaguars’ final game of a 5-7 season. For Bentley, it was the end of a six-year college career that saw him have great success and some ups and downs at South Carolina, transfer to Utah for one season, then join Wommack and offensive coordinator Major Applewhite for one final season in Mobile.
Bentley is not looking to extend his career in the NFL. Instead, he will now seek a coaching job, following in the footsteps of his father and other family members and friends.
So it was difficult to place one foot in front of the other and leave the playing field for the last time ever.
He made his final appearance on a tender left knee that will require surgery, an injury he sustained on the first possession of the Jags’ game at Troy, an injury that forced him to sit out games at Appalachian State and Tennessee. A torn MCL and damage to his ACL prevented him from having the mobility and stability he would have liked, but he wanted to be on the field for the final game, perhaps needed to be on the field for that final game.
“I just wanted to give it one last go,” he said in a press conference following the game. “I have pretty substantial damage to the knee, but I just wanted to go out with this team and the friends I made here one more time. They made this year so incredible for me and I will never forget it. I just wanted to be out there one last time.”
When Bentley arrived from Utah he was tabbed the team’s starting quarterback almost immediately, the designation becoming official a day after spring drills were completed. He quickly went about the task of becoming a leader on the offense and becoming a teammate.
“It was great,” Bentley said of his time at South Alabama. “The life-long friends that I have made here, that’s what propelled me to get out there, to give it one last go with them. I hate that it ended that way, but I really had a special year, and I was just happy to get back out there with them.”
Along the way, Bentley set new passing records at the school and padded his already impressive career stats. Just as importantly, he said, he gained new friendships.
“It was pretty immediate, which tells you about the culture of this team and the guys on this team,” he said of how quickly he felt at home with the Jags. “It’s really a special group of guys who accepted me. I learned the offense as quickly as I could and just tried to help everyone else and make us the best we could be on offense.
“I just told Coach Applewhite and Coach Wommack that they have made football so fun for me this year. Utah was a pretty rough time, that experience; I learned a lot but it wasn’t a fun experience for me. Being able to come here and be around these coaches and these guys has made this last season so special for me. Looking back, I had a lot of ups and downs in my career, but seasons like this and the guys here are what make a season so special. I’ll remember this year and not the bad things.
“I wouldn’t change anything. I learned so much from my six years of college. Just being able to be here with these guys is exactly where God wanted me to be. I just really enjoyed every second of it.”
Wommack said Bentley’s contributions were not limited to on-field performances.
“You think about the mentality that Jake Bentley’s had [this season]. To be able to get back on the field is a perfect example of the type of young man that he is,” Wommack said. “He’s a team player, he wants to be there for his teammates, he’s a competitor and wants to do his best and maximize his opportunities. You think about his career and all of the places that he’s been and the experiences he’s had, I certainly would have liked to have been able to have gotten him one more bowl game.
“I remember being on a three-way call with him, Major and myself right after I got the job and talking to him about what we wanted from our quarterback in Year 1. I’m so glad I had him here with us for the first year of this program. His steadiness, his maturity, his urgency will be something that we will grow from because of the standard that he’s set.”
Bentley was surrounded by family for his final game, including his brother Shuler, who is an offensive analyst on the Coastal Carolina staff, working for Willy Korn, co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, who played for Bentley’s father.
“I love Shuler. He’s going to be such a great coach as he continues to move up,” Bentley said. “Just to have him here was so special for me. Not only him but Willie Korn. … We’re really close with him and his family too. Just having everyone here made it special. I wish we could have won, but having him here and getting to play one last time was a big thing.”
One last time.
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