Sept. 20, 2000
Like most college students, senior Drew Bennett hasn't a clue what he'd like to do with his life after UCLA. A good student, he has spent a number of quarters on the Director's Honor Roll and is scheduled to graduate in December. He had a summer construction job once and an internship at a regional bank during another summer. This summer, he took two courses, participated in the summer passing league and hung out on campus enjoying his free time.
Quite a difference from last summer when he emerged as the focal point of the Bruins offense. As the chosen successor to Cade McNown, Bennett was selected as the starting quarterback -- a life-altering experience similar to starting a new job.
In his debut start against Boise State, he led the Bruins to a 38-7 victory, connecting on eight of 16 passes for 120 yards and a 65-yard TD pass to tight end Randy Hakes. At Ohio State the following week, he guided the Bruins to an early 10-0 lead before the Buckeyes scored 21 unanswered points to take a 21-10 halftime advantage. Near the end of the first half, he caught a sideline pass from Freddie Mitchell for a gain of 18 yards. In the third quarter, he directed a 73-yard drive on the Bruins first possession, which cut the OSU led to 21-17. Although the Bruins defense forced two third quarter turnovers, Bennett's lost fumble and interception proved to be key missed scoring opportunities in the 42-20 loss. Two days later, Bennett was informed that backup Cory Paus, who played in the second and fourth quarters at OSU, would start against Fresno State.
When Paus was injured in the Fresno State game, Bennett came off the bench and rallied the Bruins to a 35-21 victory. Entering the game with UCLA trailing 21-20, he guided consecutive drives, capped by TD passes to Brad Melsby and Brian Poli-Dixon.
The following week with Paus still sidelined, he completed 19 of 31 passes for 207 yards, and nearly completed a 25-point comeback in a 42-32 loss at Stanford.
"It was fun while it lasted. I had a good time. The Ohio State and Stanford games were tough [losses]," said Bennett, who had cameras, microphones, pens and notepads thrust in his face during Fall practice and the first four games last year. "But it wasn't like I was kicked off the team. I just moved to another position."
After three seasons, three starts and four games as a quarterback, Bennett got a new job on Oct. 4, 1999: wide receiver. He always had good hands, he knew the routes because he threw to receivers for three years, and no one ever questioned his athletic ability. Remember the game-winning 53-yard touchdown catch against Oregon State in 1998?
"The decision was mutual. We decided to use my ability as a receiver," he explained, noting that his vertical jump is 39 inches.
After backing up McNown for most of his career, Bennett began taking reps behind Poli-Dixon and Jon Dubravac. Being third string was nothing new or daunting to him. As a freshman he came to camp as the fifth string walk-on quarterback. By his second season, through attrition and injuries, he was the second string QB before earning a scholarship as a sophomore.
"Being a walk-on [at UCLA] was not as bad as I had heard at some places," remembers Bennett, who chose UCLA over Princeton. "There was no discrimination from the coaches or the players. It was a great experience for me."
Through much of his tenure at UCLA, Bennett's positive attitude has carried him through some athletic challenges. He enjoyed his brief success as the UCLA quarterback, he scored the winning touchdown in the waning moments of an important conference game, keeping alive the Bruins hopes for a national championship season, he suited up for the Rose Bowl, he even enjoyed his walk-on days.
Lucky or not, Andrew Russell Bennett's college career, though undecorated with records or accolades, certainly contains plenty of boastful memories.