UGA's Bennett could have been a Spartan

Michael Bennett was in the stadium the last time Georgia played Michigan State, but his loyalties were not with the team to which he now belongs.

“I went to the Capital One Bowl when Michigan State played Georgia a couple years ago [in 2009] and sat on the Michigan State side,” said Bennett, who celebrated his 20th birthday Monday. “I had no idea I was going to go to Georgia or anything.”

The redshirt freshman receiver -- then a junior at Alpharetta (Ga.) High School -- has a good excuse. His father John is a Michigan State alum who married his wife Beth on the school’s campus. They were non-denominational campus ministers there for a few years, then moved to work at Penn State -- where Michael was born -- before finding a home ministering in Georgia.

So while John will of course root for his son’s team in the upcoming Outback Bowl, he told his son he will still find his own unique way to remain loyal to his alma mater on Jan. 2.

“He was like, ‘I’ll be wearing red and black, but I’ll be wearing some Spartan underwear.’ I bought him that for Christmas, actually, so that was a little stocking stuffer, there,” Michael Bennett said.

The Bennetts -- including Michael -- remain faithful Michigan State fans in addition to their newfound UGA fandom. Michael even caught the wrath of his position coach, Tony Ball, when he absentmindedly wore some Spartans gear to a recent team meeting.

“I have some Michigan State shorts I wore to meetings the other day,” he laughed. “Coach Ball made me get up in front of everybody and was like, ‘What the crap are you wearing?’ I didn’t realize I put them on that morning and I was like, ‘Uh, that’s not that smart.’ ”

Michael actually visited Michigan State and believes the football program was preparing to offer him a scholarship, but Georgia’s coaching staff beat the Spartans to the punch and he committed on the spot.

Though he grew up a Spartan, he wanted to stay close to home -- and Michigan is simply too cold for his liking. Those factors, plus the opportunity to join a program with the storied tradition of Georgia, helped him learn to love the Bulldogs, too.

“I always liked [Michigan State] a lot. You always have a team you like growing up,” he said. “Being down here, I always thought Georgia fans were kind of annoying. ‘Georgia this, Georgia that,’ and you’re just like, ‘Ugh, stop it,’ so you kind of, like, root against them almost.

“But as soon as they’re offering a full-ride scholarship, you like them a lot,” he added with a smile.

Bennett has been one of the pleasant surprises on the Bulldogs' roster this season. With 31 catches for 316 yards and five touchdowns, he made an immediate impact in the passing game and was recently ranked by ESPN.com SEC blogger Chris Low as one of the league’s top 10 redshirt freshmen this season.

Now he hopes to wrap up his season by beating the team he grew up admiring -- one he easily could have played for, had the Spartans offered a scholarship first.

“I’m a big Spartan fan, so who knows,” Bennett said, “but it worked out this way, so I’m really glad it happened.”