SOUTH ALABAMA FOOTBALL’S BENTLEY LOOKING TO HELP THE NEXT GENERATION THROUGH A NON-TRADITIONAL PATH

Being the son of a legendary high school and college coach, it isn’t a surprise that football has been an intricate part of University of South Alabama quarterback Jake Bentley’s life. What might be a little surprising, though, is the non-traditional career path of being a mentor and trainer for the next generation of quarterbacks that the graduate transfer wants to take following the completion of his career.

Bentley, the son of legendary South Carolina high school coach and current assistant coach at South Florida, Bobby Bentley, has been around the game of football all his life with his father coaching at both levels for well over three decades.

Bentley began playing the game around the age of five on a flag football team in a league run by his dad. The football field was home for Bentley and his older brothers growing up as they attended both practices and were on the sidelines during games on Friday night while their dad was both an assistant and head coach at James F. Byrnes High School in Duncan, S.C.

“I’ve always been around the game whether it was being a ball boy for the high school team or just up at practice with my dad,” Bentley said.

As the son of a coach, Bentley learned to see the game from a different point of view. 

“You don’t watch games like normal people,” Bentley said. “A usual game on TV takes about three hours to watch for the normal fan, but it takes about five hours for us because we’re rewinding it and my dad would ask us what coverage they were in, what blitz were they in or what play would we call. Those types of questions are constant when you’re involved with football and your dad’s a coach. He would kind of get on us at practice and then he would start around the dinner table, but mom would have to cut him off so we could enjoy family time, which was really important to us. 

“I learned so much being around so many great players that my dad coached. I have a lot of great memories of being up at the [football] facility and hanging around my dad.”

Watching the game from a different viewpoint didn’t take for Jake as soon as it might have for his two older brothers, who also ended up collegiate coaches.

“For me, it took a little longer than my brothers to get to that point,” Bentley said. “My older brother, Shuler, who is an offensive analyst at Coastal Carolina, was by my dad’s side all the time when he was younger. He could pretty much call the plays, whereas I was building forts with the football dummies. Right before middle school around the fifth or sixth grade, I really started to take the game seriously and look at defenses a different type of way, rather than just looking at the big plays. I wanted to know why the big play happened or why the interception happened. I didn’t want to just be a fan, but watch the game more in depth.”

Like his two older siblings and his father, Bentley plans on remaining part of the game once his playing career is complete; however, he doesn’t necessarily see himself following directly in the older three Bentleys’ footpaths. Instead, he has a desire to open up a quarterback training center one day, and share his experiences with and provide instruction to the next generation of quarterbacks.

“For me, I don’t see myself away from the game of football,” Bentley said. “I’ve had so many people during my time playing college football that have really impacted me both on and off the field, whether it be a QB trainer or another type of position that has been part of the team, but not necessarily on the field. My thought is combining those roles to where I still have a personal connection with players, while still being around football and training them. I just see a big market for quarterback training, and I just wanted to give back. I’ve trained with David Morris at QB Country, and I’ve looked at what he does. He’s done some really cool things with athletes, and I just want to emulate that.”

The desire to help others is a combination of an innate feeling and the way he was raised.

“I’ve always had a natural want to just help others,” Bentley said. “We were brought up and taught by our parents to put others’ needs before our own and be unselfish. I’ve had that longing to help people, so being able to combine football with the love of other people is what I want to do and helping others develop provides the perfect avenue to do so.”

The possibility of eventually taking the traditional coaching route like his other family members isn’t completely off the table, rather it’s just not the path he feels he wants to follow and help others with at this time.

“I’m not necessarily eliminating the thought of being an on-the-field (coach), because I’ve seen those coaches have a big impact on players, but it goes back to the thought of having more of an impact in an off-the-field role,” Bentley said. “Just seeing guys’ lives changed by mentors who invested their time in them as people and not just players. That’s what really draws me to that path. Helping someone grow as a person and not just a player.”

One such mentor who has had such an impact on Bentley is someone who, like football, has been in an element of his life since an early age.

“The biggest one for me is Marcus Lattimore,” Bentley said. “I grew up watching him play in high school and college and then he was a coach at South Carolina while I was there, which was big for me. He just gave me so much more perspective of what life really means away from football. Because of him, I adapted my mindset to the philosophy that football is what we do, not who we are. Some people get wrapped up that football is exactly who they are, which is fine, but there’s more to every player other than their sport.”

Bentley, who played four seasons at South Carolina and one at Utah prior to arriving this season in Mobile, certainly has the credentials to back up his knowledge of playing the position for any future understudies. He currently stands sixth among active NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks in career passing yards (9,093) and is 10th in career touchdowns passes (63) heading into this weekend’s contest versus Louisiana at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Hancock Whitney Stadium. 

Along with his stat line, his broad experience from three different institutions will also help him when attempting to develop younger quarterbacks as he has taken away several lessons from each.

“At Utah, Coach [Andy] Ludwig was really big about preparation. His belief was that no one should out-prepare you,” Bentley said. “You should always be prepared no matter what the situation. I always appreciated that about him. At South Carolina I had Dan Werner and Kurt Roper, who were both great football minds. I was able to pick their brain about play calls and fundamentals so that I could understand the game better. Coach [Major] Applewhite here at South connects really well with the quarterbacks. That type of relationship has really helped me, and I feel that stems from his time as a college quarterback. Because he has played the position, he understands more of why a quarterback makes a certain decision, more so than someone who might have not played the position. It’s been really great to play for him and communicate with him so that I can become a better player.”

Jaguar head coach Kane Wommack and Applewhite both believe that Bentley has certain qualities to help him excel in whatever role he takes on in the future.

“First off, whatever Jake does, he has an urgency to be great at it,” Wommack noted. “His work ethic is outstanding first and foremost, and that’s really what college teaches you. I remember some of the math, history and science, but college taught me a work ethic of following through. That’s what football does too, particularly at the quarterback position which demands it. That demanding requirement is going to carry over to anything that you do in the workforce, particularly from a work ethic standpoint and an attention to detail standpoint.”

“He’s been around the game his whole life with his dad being a high school and college coach,” Applewhite said. “He’s had a lot of good experiences and a lot of not-so-good experiences, which makes you a good coach. He’s had both of those over a long career.”

Applewhite also notes how Bentley has used his previous experiences to help the other Jaguar quarterbacks. 

“I’ve seen him share his experiences, as a coach I feel that’s what you have to do when you’re trying to teach,” Applewhite said. “You need to teach people through the experiences that you’ve had personally or some of the experiences that you’ve learned about.”

Both Wommack — who, like Bentley, had a front row seat learning from a successful father in the business — and Applewhite believe being the son of a coach serves Jake well in the pursuit of his vision.

“Any coach’s kid who is really involved with the game of football and their dad’s profession has a firm understanding of the rewards and consequences of college football,” Wommack said. “Jake has seen that from both the high school and collegiate side of it as well with his dad’s career. He understands the urgency you have to have. He understands the game on a different level because he learned it as a young kid growing up. He has also seen how you operate as a coach and as a father. Seeing that modeled for you in the home makes you a better player, because you recognize the urgency a coach puts in his job every single day and you as a player want to model that.”

“He understands the time and dedication that it takes to the student-athletes,” Applewhite said of his senior quarterback. “He’s been able to see how much time his father has spent with other people’s sons. That’s a huge part of it and where your heart has to be in terms of development of an individual as it relates to finding what clicks, drives and motivates that person.”

This past summer, Bentley also had the opportunity to take advantage of a valuable learning experience, both on and off the field, as a counselor at the prestigious Manning Passing Academy. 

“It’s always great to go there [the Manning Academy] and see the other guys from around the country, while also being able to pick the brain of Peyton and Eli,” Bentley said of the experience. “Talking with them, I was mostly interested in their leadership roles. Not that what they know ‘X and ‘O wise isn’t important, because they’re two great offensive minds, but how they communicated so effectively with all of their teammates. The biggest thing that Peyton always talks about is that you can’t treat everyone the same. What he means by that is that one receiver might respond well to you yelling at them at practice, while another may need more of a one-on-one type of approach where you have to get really intimate with them in order for them to respond to you. Making those types of connections are something I’ve really tried to work on so the guys understand when I do talk to them about something, that it comes from a place of just wanting to win and not a personal attack on them.”

Learning how to deal with different athletes will serve him well down the line as a quarterback trainer, and knowing that he aspires to one day run something similar, Bentley took a different approach from most of the other campers.

“I tried to really look into every aspect of what was going on from how they handle the communication with the counselors and campers to the organizational side,” Bentley said. “The camp is just run so well. I’ve taken a lot away from not only my talks with the Mannings, but the other coaches who have been a part of it since it was created and how it’s grown. What they’ve done with that camp and the amount of kids and college counselors who have come through is really special.”

As a counselor at the Manning Academy, Bentley was able to work in the development of younger players. The weather this summer, though, provided the senior an extra benefit as he was able to share his experiences and develop more personal relationships with some of the campers.

“This year we had a lot of rain delays, and I was able to talk with the campers a lot,” Bentley said. “They were able to sit down and ask questions about different experiences that I’ve had. A lot of high school kids may not always get those types of questions answered or might feel too nervous to ask a college quarterback about recruiting or should I be lifting this or something else. It was really cool to get that experience.”

So when asked who he wants to model himself after when he takes on this future role, two names came to mind — David Morris, and of course the man who he’s shared his life and love of the game with, his dad.

“David has done an outstanding job of how he’s continued to grow what he does,” Bentley said. “Why he’s so successful is because he cares so much. I think some other quarterback trainers are just in it for the money and the fame of being a guru, but I genuinely thing David cares about the growth of the guys he coaches not only on the field, but off as well. When you’re done with your session, you can hang out with him. He loves to talk about your family and have personal conversations with you. That’s what makes him so successful in my opinion. With him, you’re able to have that connection with guys and really have an impact on them as a quarterback trainer and not just a full-time coach.”

“I’ve been able to see not only how hard he has worked to have great success in the sport, but how much he cares for everyone he coaches,” Bentley said of the front row seat he’s had to his father’s career. “I’ve seen many former players come back and tell him how much he helped them over their careers. I’ve also seen how he has managed to not let his job overtake his life. He has always had time for us to be dad and been able to make sure we always have had family time together.”

Wherever the path leads for Bentley in the future, one thing is for sure, the next generation will be better people and players thanks to the experiences of the Jaguar quarterback.

For more information about South Alabama athletics, check back with www.usajaguars.com, and follow the Jaguars at www.twitter.com/WeAreSouth_JAGS. Season tickets for all Jaguar athletic events can be purchased by calling (251) 461-1USA (1872).

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