SEC athletic directors vote for USC quarterback for his actions in win over Tennessee last season

South Carolina quarterback and former Byrnes player Jake Bentley was selected to receive the men’s SEC Sportsmanship Award Wednesday after a vote by the league’s 14 athletic directors.

All of the conference’s softball programs were honored with the women’s award collectively for their support of Mississippi State softball player Alex Wilcox, who is currently being treated for ovarian cancer. All teams displayed some form of support for Wilcox throughout the season.

“The stories of Jake Bentley and the SEC softball programs are stories of the kind of sportsmanship and compassion that is common across the SEC,” commissioner Greg Sankey said in a release. “Empathy for others, even when they are your opponent in competition, is the definition of sportsmanship, and I am proud of this year’s recipients because they set a standard that is true to the values of the Southeastern Conference.”

Bentley earned the men’s award for the compassion he showed an opposing quarterback in a game at Tennessee, according to the league office.

During USC’s 15-9 victory over the Volunteers on Oct. 14, the Gamecocks were forced to come up with one last thrilling goal-line stand after Tennessee drove from its 25 to USC’s 2 in the remaining seconds. Redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, making his first career start, threw three consecutive incompletions into the end zone to end the game.

As published in the Herald-Journal, "in the immediate aftermath, Bentley sprinted over to a crestfallen Guarantano, sitting on the ground with his hands covering his face. Bentley lifted him up into his arms and said to him, 'it’s just one game, keep your head up. You’re going to have a long career.' "

USC athletic director Ray Tanner said, “Jake is a great ambassador for the team and the athletics department, consistently representing South Carolina at events and in the media with poise, personality, and grace in victory and defeat. After each game, he makes it a point to seek out the other team’s quarterback, to share specific conversation among his counterparts around the SEC as they share a brotherhood at one of the most scrutinized positions on the field.”

Bentley is the fifth individual or team from USC presented with the sportsmanship award in the past nine years. Basketball player Aleighsa Welch (2015), the football team (2013), track and field’s Louis Day (2011), and softball’s Sam Arbaugh (2010) were previous honorees.

Bentley, a 20-year-old rising junior, has made multiple SEC Academic Honor Rolls and was elected one of four permanent team captains and selected for the team’s Leadership Award this past season. He completed 245 of 394 passes for 2,794 yards with 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, leading USC to a 9-4 record, including an Outback Bowl win over Michigan.

He’s 13-7 as a starter and looking to become just the sixth quarterback in school history with 20 victories, while eight wins would make him solo third behind only Connor Shaw (27) and Todd Ellis (24). He’s 10th all-time with 370 completions, 11th in both passing yards (4,214) and touchdown passes (27), and his career 63.3 completion percentage ranks second all-time in the program.