Jake Bentley has one last college football season in his career and he has chosen to spend it at South Alabama. He brings with him more experience and a more notable list of statistics than any previous transfer to join the Jaguars’ program.
All he wants in return is simple:
“I just want to win, I just want to win and do whatever it takes,” Bentley said following a recent South Alabama spring practice session. “I think for my years at (South) Carolina I thought, I’ve got to play this well and do these things to raise me up to this level to be ready for the NFL and whatever. I think for me, this year it’s just go win and help the guys however I can and let’s go win some games.”
Certainly, when recruiting Bentley who entered the transfer portal after a year at Utah — he has just one season of eligibility remaining — that was the main reason behind bringing him to Mobile for new head coach Kane Wommack and offensive coordinator Major Applewhite. A good group of quarterbacks, including returning starter Desmond Trotter, were already on the roster, but none of them have the experience Bentley possesses.
That experience has been evident in early spring practice sessions. Bentley and his South Alabama teammates will take part in the team’s first scrimmage of spring practice on Saturday as evaluations continue as to the players who will receive the most playing time this season begin to formulate.
“I think Jake Bentley has played so much football and he’s seen so many things,” Wommack said. “I think he’s a great communicator out on the field. He feels the urgency. A number of those quarterbacks are doing a good job of just moving the dial forward in terms of our install, pushing everybody — wide receivers, running backs, the offensive line — to understand what we’re trying to do, give them the situation now that we’re starting to understand situational defense and offensive … And I think they have a hunger to get themselves better. We need a million throws between now and game day and I think these guys will push themselves to do that.”
Bentley has been there, done that in the college game. He graduated from Opelika High School following his junior season. The family had moved to Opelika from Duncan, S.C., when his father Bobby got a coaching job at Auburn. He signed with South Carolina and was a backup to begin his freshman season of 2016 before taking over as the starter in the seventh game against UMass. The next week he led an upset of Tennessee.
He played at South Carolina from 2016-19. In 2019 he started the first game, suffered a foot injury, and missed the rest of the season. At the end of the year, he announced his transfer to Utah. He began his Utah career as the backup to Cameron Rising, another transfer, for the 2020 season but Rising was injured in the first game and Bentley was the starter the remainder of the season.
At the end of that season, granted another season of eligibility when the NCAA allowed all athletes who played in the COVID-19 season of 2020 another year of eligibility, Bentley decided to transfer again. He initially committed to Arkansas State when he appeared Major Applewhite would be the offensive coordinator there, but when Applewhite decided instead to take the OC job at South Alabama, Bentley followed.
In his career thus far, Bentley, a 6-foot-4, 220-pounder, has started 37 of the 38 games in which he has played, completing 62.4 percent of his passes for 8,409 yards, 61 touchdowns and 38 interceptions. He is intercepted an average of just one for every 29.6 passes thrown.
Those numbers, his ability to create a vertical game, his accuracy and of course his experience have made him attractive to South Alabama coaches. The chance to help turn around the Jags’ program and to play for the new coaching staff made South Alabama attractive to Bentley.
“I think the biggest thing is I just hope I can influence other guys,” Bentley said. “I have obviously played a lot of football and I’ve faced a lot of adversity and some situations that others may not have. I was talking to Caullin (Lacy, wide receiver), and said you’re going to drop a pass and there are going to be times when stuff doesn’t go right, it’s how you respond to it. That could happen in the first quarter and we may need you in the fourth quarter.
“It’s the little things like that where young guys, they’re so competitive and they try so hard, that they get down on themselves early in practice. But, man, we’ve got a long practice and you’ve got time to make up for it or to respond. Things like that are the kind of things I try to bring and influence others.”
Bentley said he has enjoyed working in another offense and adding his skill set to the rest of the offense.
“It’s been really good. It’s been really fun,” he said. “Being out with the guys, and last year not being able to have a spring and this year being out here, it just makes a world of difference for me as far as getting the number of reps you need to execute at a high level. You get the reps out here and you can see it all coming together and you can see it all transform into who we want to be and it’s exciting. We’ve got some special cats on offense and we’re really going to utilize their abilities.”
His prior experiences are expected to be a huge plus for the Jags, and Bentley knows that is a card in his favor as Applewhite and the offensive staff evaluate the quarterback position going forward. Having already made the adjustment of leaving South Carolina and learning a new offense at Utah can be another favorable situation for Bentley, who is learning yet another new offense but has previously gone through the process.
“I think so. I really learned a lot from the Utah experience,” he said. “Getting out there — I ran the same offense pretty much for four years (at South Carolina) — and I had to learn a brand new one in six months with the coronavirus and those challenges. That made this experience easier. We still have some challenges with the virus, but as far as being able to meet and be here at practice, that’s been so valuable to me. Learning a new playbook, getting with the guys on Saturdays and Sundays, the off days, and throwing and getting the reps that I know are critical helps with getting our timing down.”
While a lot of attention from South Alabama fans is focused on Bentley during spring drills as to what he can bring to the program, he said the focus should be placed on the overall growth of the team.
“It’s what this team can do, not just me,” he said. “It’s what this team can accomplish and that comes down to how hard we work. That’s the biggest thing. I told the guys, you see these teams like Alabama and everybody else do well on the field, well that’s because they work hard in the weight room and they work hard getting ready out here in spring practice and that’s what translates to the fall. To me that’s the biggest thing that I’ve seen take place is a lot of the winning takes place away from the field on Saturday.”
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