Patriots to Panthers: Bennetts part of Fayette fabric, GSU family

Patriots to Panthers: Bennetts part of Fayette fabric, GSU family

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After graduating from Sandy Creek High School, Rusty (left) and Dusty (above) both suited up for the baseball team at Georgia State University. (Photos courtesy of Georgia State Athletics)

_DSC1385Rusty and Dusty Bennett bleed blue and red. The Bennett brothers started out in the colors of the Sandy Creek High School Patriots, then moved onto the Georgia State Panthers. Both stops have shaped them in their careers and keep them close to home.
Rusty, the older brother, paved the way at Sandy Creek and then at Georgia State. Dusty, the younger brother, followed and made his own mark at both stops. Both have come home in different ways. After a roundabout trip, including a stint at Decatur High School, Rusty returned to the county as the head baseball coach at Whitewater High. Dusty had stayed at Georgia State working as an academic advisor since graduation before leaving for a year. After that year, Dusty has been hired as the Director of Football Operations for Georgia State.
Sports have been a strong tie keeping the Bennett family close and part of their community. Back at Sandy Creek, the boys of Butch and Jan Loretta Bennett suited up in both football and baseball. It wasn’t often they were on the field at the same time, Rusty was a senior when Dusty was a freshman, but it was still fun. The highlight for Rusty came in the final football game of his high school days. The coaches brought Dusty, a quarterback, in to take a snap from Rusty, the center.
In college, Dusty got to come up and dress for a couple games in baseball, and they would compete in scrimmages.
“We used to play in intrasquad games and he’d always ground to me at first base and I’d mess with him. I’d tell him he couldn’t get anything by me,” remembered Rusty. “Being able to play with my brother, that’s something I’ll never forget. Especially for our parents, getting to see us play together, that was probably more rewarding for them than it was for us.”
Sandy Creek and the area still holds a special place for the Bennetts.
“When I graduated from Sandy Creek, I wanted to eventually come back and coach in the county. I’m back here, and hopefully for a while,” says Rusty. “You can go places where we’re taking our kids to a park where I played. It’s cool to be able to raise your kids where you grew up.”
Family is huge to Rusty and his wife, Georgia. They’ve got two sons, Russell and Brody, and another on the way. Georgia and the boys are a fixture at Whitewater games, something Rusty is proud of.
“My wife’s the coach, I just get the title. She coaches me more than I coach these kids,” says Rusty. “It’s cool to have them there. To be able to look over and see Russell and Brody running around and Georgia (taking photos) in the dugout, that’s cool.”
With Rusty at the helm, the Wildcats have continued their ascension to the ranks of the state’s best. They were invited to participate in the prestigious USA Baseball National High School Invitational and finished in the top 30 of MaxPreps’ national rankings. In his two years as the head guy, Whitewater has reached the state finals both seasons.
“It’s huge just getting that notoriety because these kids deserve it,” says Rusty. “It’s hard to rank nationally. Just to have our names in the books, it’s rewarding for the kids. We need to continue to build on that and maybe get on up in the rankings a little bit more.”
Even as Atlanta has become his home, Dusty still tries to keep close to his old football family. When he was a Patriot, Rodney Walker was the head coach and Chip, Rodney’s son, was Dusty’s quarterbacks coach. Chip is now the head coach for the perennial state title contender.
“I still talk to Chip quite often. Chip’s been a mentor of mine throughout my career, somebody that I’ve leaned on,” says Dusty. “Chip and I have more of a father-son relationship than I think a lot of players have. I spent a lot of time growing up with Chip. I was young. I was malleable. Learning from him and having him show me the right path to do things has really shaped me in my professional life.”
Dusty also picked up some tips he can share with Georgia State’s players from one of his high school teammates. In addition to Will Judson who went on to play at the University of Illinois and now works at GSU, Dusty also got to throw to then classmate and now NFL All-Pro Calvin Johnson.
“It’s unbelievable to watch the success that he’s had in the NFL, and he leads young people. I think he’s an amazing role model,” Dusty says of Calvin. “The biggest thing about him is he took care of business on and off the field. He was a leader even at a young age. It led us all to believe in ourselves more than maybe we should have.”
Rusty loved football, but it was obvious where he wanted to be in college.
“Baseball just ran in the family,” says Rusty. “I just fell in love with it. I love football too, but there’s just something about baseball. That decision was easy come my senior year what I wanted to continue to play at the next level.”
Rusty left a mark on Georgia State baseball. Starting with a Freshman All-America Honorable Mention nod, he would later add all-conference honors. Rusty still ranks in the top ten in RBI in a season and games played, doubles, home runs, RBI, and walks in a career.
Playing under Mike Hurst at Georgia State hammered home that Rusty wanted to be a coach when his playing career was over.
“When I met Coach Hurst, I knew right there that was where I needed to be. I build a lot of what I do off of him. He’s a big family guy. He let you know you’re not just coming up here for baseball, you’re going to be part of a family,” says Rusty. “I knew all along I wanted to coach. I knew since the fifth grade. I’ve got a video at home my mom shows every once in a while where I stand up and say I want to coach and play baseball. I wanted to play a little bit longer, but injuries didn’t allow that to happen. Once I knew I wasn’t going to play any longer, I got right into coaching.”
Rusty still stays close to the baseball program at GSU. He’s got love for both Coach Hurst and the current head man, Greg Frady.
“In my opinion, Mike Hurst is Georgia State baseball. Without him, they wouldn’t have a baseball program,” says Rusty, adding “Coach Frady is a phenomenal coach. You couldn’t have picked a better guy to come in and lead that program when Coach Hurst left. It’s gotten better every year.”
Dusty’s football playing days with a shocking injury, but he never gave up sports. He suffered spinal shock in a Sandy Creek playoff game, requiring rehabilitation just to get back to normal. With football out of the picture, he followed his brother to the baseball team at Georgia State, sitting out a year until he was back at full strength.
“My brother is one of my role models, if not the most important role model that I have,” says Dusty. “I was a freshman and he was a senior, so he kind of passed the torch to me and taught me everything I know about being a player.”
It just seemed natural that Dusty would be a Panther too. He’d always known what it’s like to bleed blue.
“Georgia State is kind of like a second home, not only to me but to my brother,” says Dusty. “Georgia State has been a part of my life since I was 14-years-old and Rusty was a freshman there. For 16 years, I’ve watched the university grown and develop.”
Dusty played four years of baseball for the Panthers, excelling on the diamond and in the classroom. As soon as he finished playing, he started his professional career at the school as an academic advisor. Now, he’s the new Director of Football Operations. He’s in charge of running the everyday operations of the football program, all of the behind-the-scenes work that fans don’t see.
“My main role is just to make sure our coaches can coach and our players can play,” says Dusty.
He came back on the recommendation of head coach Trent Miles, and Dusty is excited to help Miles shape a young program.
“One of the people I admire most is Coach Miles. He’s the captain of our ship. My job is to make sure I handle the logistics of the ship to make sure it stays afloat,” says Dusty. “We have to make sure we’re running a first-class program. For me, I don’t look at Georgia State any differently than Georgia or Georgia Tech. I don’t want our guys to feel any different than if they played at a huge program with all the money in the world. We make sure that everything we do, we do first class.”
Hard work is showing signs of paying off. The team is sending players to the NFL and academics are a point of pride. The recruiting is catching up to the Sun Belt competition. Wins will come.
“Football at Georgia State is right on the verge of doing amazing things,” says Dusty. “I’ve been here literally since day one, since the football program was just a telephone on a desk and there were no players and no coaches. I’ve watched the talent gap really change.”
Dusty is excited about the Panthers’ potential, and he’s thrilled to be a part of building a winning foundation.
“The school is behind football. The student body is motivated, you can see it on campus,” says Dusty. “It’s a different era, and I’m excited to be a part of it. This university as a whole, from an academic standpoint and athletics, is capable of so many great things. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”

Christopher Dunn

Managing Editor Christopher Dunn has been with the Fayette County News since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Victory magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.