— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor
Bryan Bennett definitely knows about the area the Ducks will be playing in on the second day of January. The 6’3, 205-pound redshirt freshman grew up in Granada Hills, California and attended high school in nearby Encino.
“It was nice growing up in So Cal,” said Bennett with a soft-spoken laugh. “We were definitely spoiled with the nice weather and all the nice things like that. I’m definitely happy to be going back home for this game.”
Oregon’s current backup quarterback admired a certain athlete when he was a kid . Not surprisingly, it was a guy who played the same position.
“Brett Favre was my favorite,” he explained. “I just liked his style of play. He was a competitor, and would always continue to work hard. Favre also had a big, strong arm and I liked that.”
That being said, why would a someone who enjoyed the Southern California climate choose Eugene for college football as opposed to USC or UCLA?
“I thought that Oregon was the best fit for me,” Bennett said of his decision to come here. “When I was going through the recruiting process, I felt like that this was the place I needed to be.”
Right now, Bennett has found himself behind Darron Thomas on the depth chart. But he’s taken his role in stride.
“Everybody wants to be playing,” he stated. “I want to be a starter, but that’s not my role on the team at the moment. So I’ll do what I can to help this team and stay positive. I’m just doing whatever the coaches ask me to do right now. I try to be a leader in the best way I can. And if I’m asked to step in, I have to be ready to do that.”
He certainly proved he could play at a moment’s notice this season. After Thomas went down with a knee injury against Arizona State, Bennett effectively managed the Ducks to a 41-27 victory over the Sun Devils. A week later against Colorado, he completed 11 of 20 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-2 win in Boulder. Finally, Bennett threw for two more scores in the second half, helping Oregon edge Washington State 43-28.
“I just reassured myself that I could do this,” said Bennett of his playing experience. “It reinforced that I could be a quarterback at the University of Oregon.”
So does Bennett take any pride that he, in his own way, helped his Ducks win their third consecutive Pac-12 title?
“I never even looked at it like that,” he claimed. “But I was just happy to help my team when they needed me.”
He’s been happy to help out his squad, just as he’s been assisted by many of his teammates like Thomas. Bennett said the current starting signal caller has gone out of his way to show him the ropes.
“Darron has helped me out a lot,” said Bennett. “So did (then-backup) Nate Costa when I first got here last year. But DT and I are always side-by-side in the team meetings and on the field. (As are fellow quarterbacks Marcus Mariota, Dustin Haines and Brennan Doty). We’re always working together with offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. The group we have around us is what makes our quarterbacks so special at Oregon.”
Maybe this is why Bennett is willing to wait his turn for more playing time (most likely in a couple years), and will continue to sharpen his skills before that happens.
“I think I’ve become smarter about the game,” he explained. “I can always learn more about the playbook and other new things like other defenses, as well as the overall game of football. That’s allowed me to grow and mature.”
Whatever his current role might be, he’s elated that Oregon will be at the Rose Bowl early next month.
“I’m very excited to go to Pasadena,” Bennett said. “I’ve been watching the Rose Bowl for a long time. When I was in high school, I used to go watch UCLA play there all the time. I’m just happy that a lot of my family will be able to go and I’ll get to see them afterwards.”
The fifth-ranked Ducks will face a stiff test against tenth-ranked Wisconsin. However, Bennett is confident that they’ll be ready for the challenge.
“We just need to continue to prepare,” he claimed. “We need to do the best we can day in and day out. If we do those things, then I think we’ll have a good shot to go out there and play our game.”