June 20, 2011

Byrnes football season rides on the back of Bentley

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DUNCAN, S.C. - Bobby Bentley is the figurative father of Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes high school football.

In his time as the Rebels' head coach, Bentley led the team to four consecutive state titles and made the program a household name with nationally-televised games. He was named the national high school football coach of the year in 2005 - his last year as the Byrnes head coach.

He went to lead his alma mater, Presbyterian College, in its transition from Division II to the Football Championship Subdivision, but returned to Byrnes as its athletic director and offensive coordinator in 2009.

Now, with his soon-to-be 16-year old sophomore son, Shuler Bentley, poised to be the team's starting quarterback, he could be the literal father of the program.

"Shuler is a hard-working kid," the elder Bentley said. "He is still competing to win the job, and if he is the best player at that position, it will be his."

Shuler played the entirety of the Palmetto State Showdown 7-on-7 with the Byrnes A team, leading it to the semifinal round before falling to eventual tournament champion Brunswick (Ga.) High.

He appears to be on schedule to follow in the footsteps of his older step-brother, Chas Dodd (now the quarterback at Rutgers), as a three-year starter at Byrnes.

"It feels good to be out there," Shuler said. "My brother started as a sophomore and for me to come in and maybe do that, too, it is pretty cool."

Both Chas and Shuler have lived the quarterback life with their father being the architect of the offense - and both have had the full support of the Byrnes head coach, Chris Miller.

"He is a gutsy player even at such a young age," Miller said. "The whole family lives and breathes football though so it is no surprise he is ready to play at this level. If you watch a game with Shu he can tell you the coverage, he can tell you where the ball should go, he has a dream to be a football player."

The dream can quickly be realized, as being the quarterback for Byrnes has been a golden ticket to a college opportunity.

Class of 2002 quarterback, Anthony Johnson, went to UAB.

The classes of 2006 and 2007 saw Division I recruit Daniel Barton and four-star Willy Korn battle for the quarterback position with Korn winning out. He then started for two years and received an opportunity to play at Clemson, he later transferred to Marshall.

Dodd immediately followed for the next three seasons and landed at Rutgers.

Zach Blair kept the position warm last year winning a state title and signing to play at Gray Military Academy before the next Bentley was ready to take over.

The program is 118-10 since 2002 and has won seven state titles. Because of it, Shuler knows there is pressure that comes with the position.

"Yeah, I feel some of the pressure," he said. "I think I will be nervous the first couple snaps against [Louisville (Ky.)] Ballard, but then I think I will settle in."

Miller says that the position is still open, and that senior backup Colton Korn, who played mostly wide receiver with the A team and occasionally at defensive back with the B team at Palmetto State Showdown event is still in the mix. Miller feels having an older player to compete with Bentley will make both better.

"There is still a long time before the season starts," Miller said. "There are guys out there that can push him and nothing is certain. If he ends up as the starter, I am certain everyone will accept that decision because he will have earned it and not because he is Coach Bentley's son."

Byrnes Class of 2011 tight end, Craig Weick, agrees.

"Coach (Miller) won't just put a guy out there that can't play," Weick, who is preparing to play football at Coastal Carolina, said from his seat as a time keeper at the event this past weekend. "The guys on the team know that he wants to win and that will come first."

Miller acknowledged that perception will not affect his decision either.

"He is Coach Bentley's son," he said. "But right now he is playing the best at the position."

With national rankings and state title expectations, playing a sophomore could be a risky move, especially a coach's son with a senior quarterback on the roster.

Shuler thinks he is prepared for any scrutiny and has a fail-safe game plan for success.

"I just look around and know I will be fine," he said. "We got guys like Akia (Booker) and Shakeem (Wharton). I just have to get them the ball and let them do the work. They are our playmakers."

And if that doesn't work, he can lean on his biggest supporter and critic.

"Yeah, having my dad right there will be an advantage," he said. "I can lean on him in tough situations, but he is also my coach and he will put me in the best position to win."

Like any father, literal or figurative, would do.

MORE: Is South Carolina football talent down? | 7-on-7 helps teams find QBs



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