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June 18, 2008

Bennett now finds himself a Bulldog

Times change. So do hearts.

Just seven months ago, Taylor Bennett - then Georgia Tech's starting quarterback - refused to wear red because of his dislike of rival Georgia. Yet during the upcoming season, he'll wear a jersey with red trim and play for a team called the Bulldogs that's coached by a Dooley Derek, the son of legendary Georgia coach Vince Dooley.

It seems playing for Louisiana Tech is as close to playing for Georgia as one can get without actually being in Athens.

"It's very ironic, but I've come to rationalize it," Bennett said. "I still don't wear red. We also wear blue and white. The way I look at it, I'm still playing for Tech. And Coach (Derek) Dooley went to Virginia, so it's not exactly (legendary Georgia coach) Vince Dooley.

"It's pretty close, but I keep trying to figure out ways to rationalize it."

A rational approach to his football career led Bennett to Ruston, La.

Two years ago, Bennett stepped in for academically ineligible Reggie Ball and passed for 326 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-35 loss to West Virginia in the Gator Bowl. Then, as the Yellow Jackets' starter last season, he passed for 2,136 yards. However, he completed fewer than 50 percent of his attempts and had more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (seven).

After a seven-win season, coach Chan Gailey was dismissed and replaced by Navy's Paul Johnson, who favors a triple-option offense. Navy ranked last in the nation in passing offense in each of the past two seasons and never ranked higher than 115th in passing in Johnson's six seasons in Annapolis.

As a passing quarterback, Bennett figured his chances of playing were limited at best. In addition, he hinted there was a personality clash with the new staff, so it was time to leave.

"Six of us transferred, so it wasn't just a one-person thing," Bennett said. "The whole athletic association (at Georgia Tech) did a '180.' They not only changed football coaches, but it felt like the whole regime changed. It was a different world. It's tough that had to happen, but that's life. You take the punches and go with it.

"I'm happy where I am now, and I'm more than excited to be here. I can't say how thankful I am to be given the opportunity to pursue my Masters."

Bennett, who still had a year of athletic eligibility remaining, already has earned a degree in International Affairs and wants to pursue a career with the FBI or seriously CIA. "I hope to get into something in the intelligence world," he said.

The NCAA allows graduate students to transfer if their current school doesn't offer their desired Masters program. Because of its proximity to Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana Tech is among a handful of schools in the country that offer an Information Security Program.

That made the decision to transfer to Louisiana Tech easy. And there are some bonuses.

Louisiana Tech has a history of producing talented quarterbacks, including Terry Bradshaw, Matt Dunigan, Tim Rattay and Luke McCown. Attending Tech offered the opportunity to work with offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Frank Scelfo, who tutored NFL quarterbacks Patrick Ramsey, J.P. Losman and Lester Ricard at Tulane and CFL quarterback Zac Champion last season at Louisiana Tech.

Bennett didn't participate in spring drills, but in August he will compete with sophomores Ross Jenkins and Steve Ensminger. Jenkins attempted five passes in 2007, while Ensminger sat out the season after transferring from Auburn. Jenkins came out of the spring with the edge, but Scelfo said the job is wide open.

"Obviously, Taylor has a wealth of experience that he brings to the table, and he's played in big games," Scelfo said. "It will be a nice battle.

"They (Jenkins and Ensminger) will have to elevate their play to beat him out or he will win the job. Either way, we'll be better at that position. I know we've upgraded the quarterback position from a depth standpoint, for sure."

Even if playing at Tech requires wearing red and being a Bulldog, Bennett is at home. When he moved into his apartment in Ruston, his mother gave him a unique house-warming gift an antique porcelain bulldog dressed as a Yellow Jacket.

"It's perfect for my situation," Bennett said. "It brings a little more peace to me when I wake up."

TRIVIA QUESTION

Who is the last Louisiana Tech player to be a consensus first team All-American selection? (Answer at the end of the column.)

OLD SCHOOL

Name the colleges attended by these players, who were No. 1 overall picks in the NFL Draft. (Answers at the end of the column.)

1. Charlie Trippi (by Chicago Cardinals, 1945)

2. Chuck Bednarik (by Philadelphia, 1949)

3. Kyle Rote (by New York Giants, 1951)

4. Tucker Frederickson (by New York Giants, 1965)

5. Ron Yary (by Minnesota, 1968)

6. John Matuszak (by Houston, 1973)

7. Ed "Too Tall" Jones (by Dallas, 1974)

8. Ken Sims (by New England, 1982)

9. Steve Emtmann (by Indianapolis, 1992)

10. Dan Wilkinson (by Cincinnati, 1994)

GREEN WAVE GOOD-BYE

Tulane lost its starting quarterback when Anthony Scelfo, the son of Louisiana Tech offensive coordinator Frank Scelfo, signed a baseball contract with the Tampa Bay Rays.

An eighth-round pick, Anthony Scelfo received a six-figure signing bonus and reported to the Rays' rookie-league team Tuesday. Last season, Scelfo started eight games and was 111 of 205 for 1,396 yards and six touchdowns.

Senior Scott Elliott and sophomore Kevin Moore, both of whom saw action last season, figure to fight for the starting job in '08.

QUICK HITTERS

The general consensus is that Kentucky will take a step back after posting consecutive eight-win seasons, especially after losing six offensive regulars - including quarterback Andre' Woodson. But Wildcats coach Rich Brooks goes against the popular opinion. "I'm not expecting to fall off at all," Brooks told a local newspaper. "Our overall talent level is a lot higher now than it was a couple of years ago. While we lost a great group of seniors, we've got some talented and experienced lettermen returning and then some young guys who are ready to step up to the plate."

Colorado State expects to raise $72.8 million for this fiscal year, which ends June 30. That's $20.2 million more than was raised last year and the second-most successful fund-raising campaign in CSU history. Making that number is even more impressive is that many alumni had threatened to withhold donations in protest of the firing of football coach Sonny Lubick.

Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who caught 35 passes and scored four touchdowns last season, on Monday pleaded guilty to allegedly attacking a police officer and public intoxication stemming from a January incident. He must pay $400 in fines and contributions and perform 20 hours of community service.

Quarterback Connor Dixon, who was granted a release from a Michigan State scholarship last month, is transferring to Division I-AA Duquesne. He will be eligible immediately. Dixon attempted five passes for the Spartans last season.

West Virginia fullback Maxwell Anderson has gained 15 pounds while rehabilitating from a knee injury and hopes to win a starting job this fall. Last season, he backed up starter Owen Schmitt.

Walter Mendenhall, the brother of former Illinois star tailback Rashard Mendenhall, is transferring from Illinois and enrolling at Division I-AA Illinois State as a grad student. Walter Mendenhall carried just four times for 57 yards for the Illini last season.

Dane Guthrie, who was expected to be Arizona State's starting tight end, won't rejoin the team after missing some of the spring with academic issues. Guthrie who began his career at Florida played defensive end last season and posted 13 tackles and two sacks, but was expected to return to his original position this season.

OLD SCHOOL ANSWERS

1. Trippi, Georgia

2. Bednarik, Penn

3. Rote, SMU

4. Frederickson, Auburn

5. Yary, USC

6. Matuszak, Tampa

7. Jones, Tennessee State

8. Sims, Texas

9. Emtmann, Washington

10. Wilkinson, Ohio State

TRIVIA ANSWER

Wide receiver Troy Edwards was a consensus All-American in 1998 after leading the nation with 140 receptions for 1,996 yards and 27 touchdowns. He also led the country in all-purpose yardage.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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