When Bobby Bentley’s frustrated son came to him early last fall, his dad gave him some advice.
Jake Bentley had given up what was sure to be a celebrated senior season at Opelika (Ala.) High School to enroll early at South Carolina, and through the first six weeks of the season all he had to show for it was a few throwaway practice snaps as the Gamecocks third-string quarterback.
“I told him he had a couple options, he could sulk about it and you’re not going to be get any better because you are going to get better or worse every day, or you can make the most out of every opportunity you get. He did that and it paid off for him,” Bobby the dad said.
It’s the same advice Bobby Bentley the coach would have given him. Bobby is South Carolina’s running backs coach, and he and Jake are entering their second season of navigating being father and son at the same time they are coach and player.
“He and I both will handle it better,” Bobby said. “Anytime you’ve got your son out there, whether you are coaching running backs or offensive line or whatever, you are going to be tied to your son, but you also know you have a job to do professionally and you try to do as good a job as you can to please your head coach and your coordinator.”
Year one, as everyone settled into new roles in head coach Will Muschamp’s tenure, probably was the toughest part for all parties.
“He hadn’t gotten any reps (in the first half of the season), he was frustrated, like, ‘Hey, dad I should have played my senior year,’” Bobby said. “It wasn’t that he wasn’t happy here. It was just, ‘Dad, I could have stayed in high school and been getting game reps.’ Then all of a sudden, he goes and he’s starting against UMass.”
Jake Bentley took over the starting job in game seven and cemented his status as the starter with 1,420 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions in six games to close the season.
“I was OK except when he was lining up against (Tennessee defensive end) Derek Barnett,” Bobby said. “That was a little scary, but other than that it was a great experience for us the first year.”
The dynamic is not new for Bentley and his sons. Bobby has been coaching Jake all his life. Literally, it seems like to Jake.
“It’s not necessarily being critical all the time, but we’re watching a game and he will pause it to show me something, to show me a defense, just always teaching me something about football,” Jake said. “I think that is what has prepared me so well to be here is just always learning, always getting better.”
Bobby ran the programs at Byrnes High School and Presbyterian College while Jake was growing up and then worked just down the road at Auburn while Jake was coming into his own at Opelika. His football development has always come under the watchful eye of a professional.
“It can be (challenging). He wants me to be perfect,” Jake said. “He stays on me a lot, but he knows when to turn it off, too. I’m not his only son. He’s done it two times before me so he knows when to be dad and when to be coach.”
Chas Dodd, Jake’s half-brother and Bobby’s stepson, played quarterback at Rutgers. Shuler Bentley currently plays the position at Murray State. Jake, the most heralded of the trio, is the beneficiary of years of Bobby’s practice in his dual position.
“When you talk about football in our family, it’s 24-7,” Bobby said. “It never goes away. (Bobby’s wife and Jake’s mom) Polly will sometimes give us that look like, ‘OK, that’s enough,’ but she knows and she loves it too. She’s a great football mom. She probably can’t explain much Xs and Os, but she knows she wants to see him lead the team and have his fiery spirit because she will even tell him on days she doesn’t think he’s having as much fun.”
Bobby still debriefs Jake and Shuler almost daily after their official football duties are done -- Jake in person and Shuler on the phone from Murray, Ky.
During South Carolina’s practices and games, Bobby and Jake have very limited direct contact. Muschamp has made clear that he expects offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper to handle all the on-field coaching of Jake, which is an easier reality than it sounds once the team is on the field.
“During practice it’s very difficult to even watch Jake because I’m so focused and kind of have tunnel vision on the running backs,” Bobby said. “Where I do spend some time watching Jake is when I hear Coach Roper speaking about what the quarterback should do. Coach Roper is a great quarterback coach so for me listening to the terms he may use or language he may use to help Jake, I am in tune to that and that’s what Jake and I may speak about later.”
Bobby trusts Roper implicitly, he emphasized, and is happy to let him handle all the on-field work. Off the field, though, the Bentleys just do what the Bentleys have always done.
“You just reemphasize some things that Jake may speak to you about because you’ve been talking to him since he was 3 years old about quarterback play,” Bobby said.