College Sports

Social media can be a cruel world. So how do USC’s players handle that pressure?

Jake Bentley discusses his growth as a player, his plan for cutting down on turnovers

South Carolina football quarterback Jake Bentley speaks Wednesday, July 17, 2019, as part of SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama.
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South Carolina football quarterback Jake Bentley speaks Wednesday, July 17, 2019, as part of SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama.

After five minutes of taking questions about Jake Bentley’s interceptions, Jake Bentley’s progress (or regression) and other Jake Bentley struggles, Dan Werner paused and tried to pivot the interview in a different direction.

“We’re all sitting here talking about the negatives,” said South Carolina’s quarterbacks coach. “Let’s talk about how we threw for 510 yards in a game and some of the good things that he did, you know? All these questions are about how bad we did. … Let’s talk about good stuff.”

A reporter in the scrum countered: “We don’t get to ask you questions very much. These are the questions people hound us to ask you.”

The above scene took place April 4, two days ahead of the USC spring game. It was Werner’s first media availability since the Gamecocks were shut out by Virginia in the Belk Bowl in late December. It was also the first time Werner spoke since Bentley announced he’d be returning for his senior year.

All added up, it was only natural for certain topics to arise before others.

“I understand,” Werner said with a grin.

Bentley’s record-setting performance against Clemson in Week 11 of the 2018 season was perhaps a distant memory for Carolina fans by the time he made his NFL decision. What they might have recalled first was his 1-10 record against Top 25 teams and the fact the Gamecocks will be entering 2019 on a six-quarters scoreless drought.

More than a few commenters at The State — including on Facebook — reflected this when the newspaper posted the story of Bentley’s return on Jan. 4. Responses on Bentley’s Twitter account were mostly encouraging — “So glad you are coming back, prove the haters wrong,” posted one fan; “Glad you’re back. Need that experience next year with the schedule we have coming up,” posted another — but some were hostile — “south carolina just can’t win...this is a sad day for the gamecocks,” read one post; “Can you please just leave it will be for the best, thanks in advance,” read another.

Consider it a window into the world of today’s college athlete. How do they deal with it?

“I think the hardest thing is not looking at it when you’re losing, but not looking at it when you’re winning, either,” Bentley said Wednesday as part of SEC Media Days. “Because if you look at it when you’re winning, you’ll think differently about yourself and then you go back to it after a loss and it pisses you off. And then you start to believe stuff that these people that know nothing about quarterbacks are saying about you.”

Bentley, who has over 17,000 followers, rarely tweets. He posted his announcement video Jan. 4, a link to an Instagram photo on Jan. 10 and has since only retweeted a note about Bentley Football Camps and a USC-produced video about his father, Bobby, fishing with Donell Stanley.

“I pretty much delete Twitter. … I really never got back on it after the season, except to tweet the video,” Bentley said. “It’s just not important. The only things that are important are our teammates and our coaches and winning football games.”

When Bryan Edwards announced he’d be returning for his senior season, the Gamecock receiver did it by tweeting out a clip from “The Wolf of Wall Street” in which Leonard DiCaprio’s character famously tells his company, “I’m not leaving!”

The clever touch came with rave reviews. But like Bentley, Edwards knows there can be a short shelf life for good vibes on social media. He’s seen the dark side, too.

“You just gotta learn to laugh at yourself a little bit,” Edwards said. “Don’t take stuff to heart. People, they’re just sitting on their couch and just talking. They’re not thinking about how it affects you or anything like that. So you just got to learn to laugh at it and play around with it.”

Bentley and Edwards will soon begin their final season together. When it’s over, they could be South Carolina’s all-time leaders in receiving and passing yards.

Just something to think about.

“Negative is so prevalent in our media anyways,” Bentley said. “All you hear about is negativity, negativity. So it’s so easy for somebody just to tweet out something negative. It’s sad to see it and it’s sad to see people tear people down for no reason.

“That’s why I don’t look at it. There’s no reason for me to worry about that when there needs to be more positivity.”

Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.
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