LAKE CHARLES — Having lost its top two quarterbacks from last year, the Southeastern Louisiana football team will enter 2013 with a new face behind center for the fourth time in as many seasons.
The surest sign that Bryan Bennett will be that guy came Wednesday at Southland Conference media day.
All eight coaches from the league’s eight active football-playing schools showed up at L’Auberge Resort with two players from their teams.
Even though Bennett has yet to take a snap in a Southeastern uniform, he was one of the two players coach Ron Roberts brought with him.
“He’s here (at media day) because he’s our guy,” Roberts said. “Not to say he won’t have to compete for his job, because everybody has to do that. But he’s our guy. He’s the leader of our football team.”
Bennett has waited four years for such a scenario.
A four-star recruit at Crespi High in Encino, Calif., Bennett signed with Oregon in 2010 and watched the Ducks advance to the BCS championship game as a redshirt.
The following year, Bennett served as returning starter Darron Thomas’ backup, showing great promise in eight appearances.
Last season, he battled redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota for the starting job throughout fall camp, a competition that lasted until the week before Oregon’s opening game.
Mariota went on to have one of the best freshman seasons in Oregon history.
Rather than return to Oregon for his junior year, Bennett sought out an FCS school like Southeastern where he could avoid NCAA transfer penalties and would be eligible to play immediately.
He enrolled at Southeastern in January and went through spring drills with his new team.
“You still have to compete, and I have to continue my play through (fall) camp,” Bennett said. “But I’m just ready for the season. I’m ready to get into the camp and get my guys better. It wouldn’t matter if I was first string, second string or third string. I just have to get better myself and try to get us better as a team.”
A number of FCS schools surely would have loved to welcome a 6-foot-3, 205-pound dual-threat quarterback who had 18 appearances at Oregon under his belt.
Bennett said he learned of Southeastern through Indiana State offensive coordinator Brian Sheppard, a backup quarterback for Southeastern in 2003. Bennett had developed a relationship with Sheppard during the coach’s days as a UCLA assistant.
With his ability to beat defenses through the air and on the ground, the Oregon transfer could be the key to helping Southeastern’s spread offense take flight.
“He gives an element to our offense that I think everybody wants: a dual-threat,” Roberts said. “You have to defend both things.”
Bennett arrived at Southeastern just as Brian Young and Nathan Stanley had finished their senior seasons.
Young started 11 games as a junior in 2011, with Stanley seeing action in five games off the bench. Stanley started every game last year.
If he makes the kind of impact on his new team that Roberts envisions, Bennett could give Southeastern the kind of stability it hasn’t had at quarterback since Brian Babin, who finished his career in 2009 with 7,405 passing yards and 62 touchdowns.
“He’s a very humble guy and a great leader,” Southeastern linebacker Kaleb Muse said of his new teammate. “I think he’s going to help us win a lot of games this season.”
Junior Jordan Barnett, who threw two passes last year, and junior-college transfer Justin Posthuma are the two quarterbacks looking to push Bennett for playing time.
Posthuma has Pac-12 ties of his own, having originally signed with UCLA out of high school.
But it’s clear that Bennett, who compiled 945 yards of offense (580 passing, 365 rushing) in two seasons as Oregon’s backup, will be at the center of Southeastern’s plans when fall camp gets underway.
“I haven’t really gotten that opportunity since high school,” Bennett said. “I’m ready to get it again.”