The Bentley family accomplished just about every feat you could during their time at Byrnes High. Now, the first family of high school football in South Carolina is hoping to stamp its mark on the Gamecocks program.
Bobby Bentley is a high school coaching legend in the state of South Carolina, where he compiled a 119-54 record as the coach at Byrnes and won four consecutive state titles from 2002-05.
He spent two years as the coach at Presbyterian College, his alma mater, before returning to Byrnes as an assistant and winning a pair of state titles while serving as the offensive coordinator of a unit that put up video game-like numbers.
Bentley enjoyed much of his success during his later years at Byrnes with one of his sons playing quarterback. Stepson Chas Dodd led the Rebels to two state titles and went 42-3 during three years as a starter from 2007-09, while Shuler Bentley set several state passing records and led Byrnes to a state title his sophomore season, quarterbacking the Rebels from 2011-13.
Bobby is once again surrounded by family as he begins his coaching career at USC. His son, Jake, will battle for the starting quarterback job this fall, and Chas is serving as a graduate assistant with the Gamecocks’ strength program.
“I’m getting to coach at the state university where I cut my teeth,” Bobby said. “It’s almost emotional when you start thinking about it and really put it all together.”
IMPORTANCE OF FOOTBALL
Bobby Bentley grew up around a sport, but it wasn’t football.
However, he realized at an early age what the game could do for him.
Bentley played quarterback at Byrnes, graduating in 1986, before furthering his education at Presbyterian while playing quarterback for the Blue Hose.
“My mom and dad didn’t graduate from high school. All of my family was into car racing. If it wasn’t for football, I’d be changing tires or changing a muffler right now,” he said. “Football gave me an education. It gave me an opportunity to provide for my children, and a platform that I wouldn’t have without it.”
Bentley began his coaching career the year after graduating from PC, serving as an assistant at Byrnes. He became the head coach of the Rebels in 1995 and began making his name as an offensive mastermind.
While Bentley was earning the reputation of being an exceptional high school coach, he was simultaneously molding his sons into Division I quarterbacks.
He saw firsthand the rewards of being a talented football player and wanted the same for his boys.
“When they come out of the womb, you just start working with them,” Bentley said. “When they’re watching football on TV, when they see good athletes, how they carry themselves. Their posture, body language, mentally, physically, offseason development. It’s a lot of things that go into it.”
Hours upon hours were spent throwing the football in the backyard or watching games on television, and not just watching games to cheer for a team, but breaking down plays and mechanics.
“It was everywhere. Everything we did revolved around football,” Chas said. “In no way was that a negative… When you’re around it for so long, you don’t really think about it. You’ve been doing it for so long it just becomes a normal part of your everyday life.”
When Bobby’s sons were not in the backyard or studying film, they were attending practices at Byrnes, observing quarterbacks who they looked up to.
Players such as Justin Fulbright, Trey Elder and Willy Korn had incredible careers at Byrnes while producing eye-popping offensive numbers. Their productivity gave Chas, Shuler and Jake something to strive for.
“You see the success that the quarterbacks before me had as I was coming up, they may not have had the most talent in the world but they were able to lead the state in passing and put up great numbers,” Chas said. “You see the success that was continued over several years, and you realize if you put some time in this, you can be that same person and have that same success.”
The hard work of Bobby’s sons under his tutelage led to three Division I quarterbacks in the family.
Chas was a three-year starter for the Rebels, throwing for 10,640 yards and 111 touchdowns during his high school career before playing at Rutgers for four seasons.
Shuler passed for a state record 13,245 yards and 177 touchdowns during his three years as a starter at Byrnes before attending Old Dominion. He just completed his redshirt freshman season and started eight games.
Jake was the highest-rated quarterback of the three, spending two seasons at Opelika High in Alabama where he passed for 2,834 yards with 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions as a junior. He is skipping his senior season of high school to enroll early at USC.
“It’s been a blessing to me,” Jake said of being around football all of his life. “Growing up you’re kind of like, ‘Man, I’ve got to go throw. Dad, can we watch the game without rewinding it and showing us something?’ But looking back I’m really thankful that he did all of that and just teaching us about the game, just putting us around it. It increased my love for the game, and it’s helped me become a better football player.”
GOING OUT ON A LIMB
Bobby was born and raised in South Carolina.
Up until 2014, his entire playing and coaching career was at Byrnes High and Presbyterian College. Early in 2014, he decided it was time for a change.
Bobby had always been enamored with the idea of coaching big-time college football and got the opportunity when Gus Malzahn offered him a job as an offensive analyst at Auburn.
“When he went to Auburn, he felt like that was the right time for us to do it and for him to be introduced to the college football coaching realm,” Jake said.
While Bobby missed being a more hands-on coach, his time with the Tigers helped prepare him to be an on-the-field assistant at a major college program.
“The analyst deal allowed me to study SEC defenses and understand what it takes to win in this league and to compete in this league from a recruiting standpoint and athletic standpoint,” Bobby said. “Without that analyst experience, I’m not sure I would be prepared for this.”
When Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp accepted the head coaching job at South Carolina, he offered Bobby the running backs position, an on-field coaching job that was a long-time coming.
“I think it’s always been a dream of his to be a coordinator or position coach at a big college,” Jake said.
Bobby has made the most of his opportunity since being hired in December. He has quickly built a reputation as being a hard worker on the recruiting trail and has helped the Gamecocks land several of their top prospects, including Union County wide receiver Shi Smith and St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) running back Kyshaun Bryan.
There was talk when Bobby was hired at USC that some high school coaches might hold a grudge against him because his prep teams had so much success, often winning by large margins, but Dorman coach Dave Gutshall, one of the most respected coaches in the state, said he doesn’t see that being an issue.
“We had such great games with them there was no hostility with us toward them. I can’t speak for some of the schools that may have gotten beat 70-0, I don’t know. But I would think that their interest in South Carolina football and what’s best for their kids would be the number one thing,” Gutshall said. “I can’t imagine somebody getting into that.”
Bobby said the feedback he’s received has been nothing but positive.
“A lot of excitement because they see a guy that was one of their peers and worked hard and got this break,” he said. “They want to see somebody succeed, obviously. And I’m friends with a lot of coaches that worked on my staff or helped us win championships, now they’re head coaches building another program.”
Bobby is anxious to make the most of his opportunity with the Gamecocks, and is thrilled about having two of his sons in the program alongside him.
The next step is helping build South Carolina into a winner.
“Everyone says he’s one of the greatest high school coaches ever in South Carolina. For me, I just see him as dad,” Jake said. “He’s been one of the most successful coaches, but he’s worked very hard to be where he’s at.”
While the challenges and responsibilities are different, Bobby is still a football coach, doing what he loves.
“Really I teach football, but I coach life,” he said. “And you do that on the high school level and college level.”
My four sons
A look at Bobby Bentley’s sons:
- 12 years old and the youngest son in the family
- Also a quarterback
- Backup quarterback at Byrnes in 2013
- Played at Opelika High in Alabama in 2014-15
- Passed for 2,834 yards with 28 TDs and eight interceptions last season
- Skipped senior year of high school to enroll early at USC
- Will battle for Gamecocks starting QB job this fall
- Byrnes starting quarterback from 2011-13
- Passed for a state-record 13,245 yards and 177 TDs
- Two-time South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year
- Led Byrnes to state title in 2011
- Started eight games as a redshirt freshman at ODU
- Threw for 1,432 yards with 12 TDs
- Byrnes starting quarterback from 2007-09
- Threw for 10,640 yards and 111 TDs at Byrnes
- Led Byrnes to state titles in 2007-08
- Played quarterback at Rutgers from 2010-13
- Seventh in Rutgers history with 4,079 passing yards
- Serving as grad assistant with strength program at USC