December 25, 2011

Facing a familiar foe

Redshirt freshman Michael Bennett had a birds-eye view the last time Georgia squared off against Michigan State in the 2008 Capital One Bowl - in the crowd dressed in green with thousands of other Spartan fans.

It's true.

Bennett's father Jon, who is from Farmington, Mich. located just outside of Detroit, graduated from MSU before marrying his mother Beth (a Blissfield, Mich. native) while both were serving as campus ministers on the campus at East Lansing.

"Yeah, my dad grew up always watching those games. I've been up to a few, I went to the Capital One when they played Georgia and sat on the Michigan State side," the younger Bennett recalled. "I had no idea I was going to go to Georgia. I was a sophomore in high school and I was all Spartan then. It's pretty cool."

It was his father's allegiance to the Green and White that left an indelible impact on the now Georgia receiver, who couldn't be more thrilled to face the Spartans in next week's Outback Bowl (Jan. 2, 1 p.m.) at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium.

"I'd been a big fan since I was a little kid," said Bennett, who has made quite the impact on the Bulldog receiving corps. "It's going to be cool playing against the school I liked as a kid, but when you get between those lines you just want to win the game. It doesn't really matter who it is, you're just going to hit them as hard as you can and catch every ball."

So far, Bennett hasn't dropped many.

Bennett ranks fourth with 31 catches for 316 yards and five touchdowns, as the former Alpharetta High star has had the penchant for making some of the tougher grabs on the team, including a key fourth-down reception in Georgia's 24-20 win over Florida.

How Bennett became a Bulldog is a story in itself.

Although he posted some impressive numbers in high school, Bennett wasn't that highly regarded by a lot of schools and initially by the Bulldogs themselves until he wowed coaches with a performance at one of head coach Mark Richt's annual summer camps.

"I remember it very well, I remember Michael very well," Richt recalled. "We had some cornerbacks who were very highly ranked and thought of and Michael just did a super job of competing, breaking coverages and making plays. This guy's a good player, so we offered him that day."

It took Bennett about a second to accept.

"Dave Warner is their (Michigan State) quarterbacks coach and I talked to him a lot, and I think they were going to pull the trigger with an offer," Bennett said. "But Georgia came around just before them and I committed on the spot."

Would Bennett have committed to Michigan State if an offer had come earlier?

"You never know, I was a big Spartan fan so who knows?" Bennett said. "But it worked out this way; I'm glad it happened the way it did."

Bennett laughed it didn't always use to be that way.

As a youngster, he thought Georgia would be the last school he would ever attend.

"As a kid, you've always got a team you followed and being down here I always thought Georgia fans were kind of annoying," Bennett smiled. "It was Georgia this, Georgia that, so you kind of rooted against them, but as soon as they offered a full-ride scholarship I liked them a lot."

Dad has obviously come around, too, although Michael gave his pop a Christmas present so he could keep the ole alma mater close to him while the Outback Bowl is being played.

"He was like I'll be wearing red and black, but I'll be wearing some Spartan underwear," Bennett said. "I bought him that for Christmas, a little stocking stuffer."