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June 29, 2012
DUNCAN - Shuler Bentley doesn't have a whole lot in common with LeBron James.
He likes the sport - basketball - just fine (even enough to ask where Austin Rivers, the former Duke guard, had been selected in Thursday night's NBA Draft).
But he doesn't even play basketball anymore, and despite the fact that he'll be one of the top signal-calling prospects in the state of South Carolina in 2014 he doesn't like to tell anyone that he'll be taking his talents anywhere in particular just yet.
Still, a common thread exists between the two - they know all about expectations.
Bentley, the son of former Byrnes High School head coach Bobby Bentley, took over the reins of the storied Rebels' program last season as a sophomore and the then 6-foot-1-inch, 175-pounder hardly disappointed in leading the team to a state title in a satisfying 31-24 win over Gaffney.
Just how heavily did the expectations weigh on him? Not as much as you might think. That's because at Byrnes, the expectations start long before any player finds himself starting on the varsity squad.
"As far as expectations go, here it starts the first day you get on the field in the ninth grade because you are expected to go 10-0," Bentley said Thursday.? "And after that you are expected to go 15-0 and win the state championship. That's just the way it is."
But things didn't start off that easily for Bentley in 2011. After the first four games of the season the Rebels were just 2-2, having dropped games to Myrtle Beach and Gaffney.
"After the first two or three games when I struggled a little bit the nerves started going away," he said. "The game against Myrtle Beach was just a crazy game with so many lightning delays, and we actually could have been up 14-0 early in the Gaffney game, but I started getting more comfortable and more confident in what I was doing out there. I definitely felt I had something to prove."
Bentley needed a spark, and it came the week after the Gaffney loss when then things "clicked" against T.L. Hanna on a fourth-down play in which Bentley hooked up with his good friend, wide receiver Akia Booker, on a long touchdown play that was conceived in the huddle.
"That ball went in the air and I knew that we had this, that we were going to win the state championship," he said. "We had the matchup we wanted and he gave me one of those looks and said he was going to beat his guy and he did. Now with us it's just a nod and a tap on the head. We are as close off the field as we are on the field."
The relationship between Bentley and Booker is a telling one. It gives fans a glimpse into one of the key ingredients to the Rebels' year-in-year-out success - unbelievable chemistry.
"I'm a team first guy so I'm thinking state championships, but it's not just my mindset, the day we won the state title on Friday we were in the weight room on Monday," Bentley said.? "We have fun with our teammates too and crack on people. We walk around freely and have fun, but when we step into the weight room we are focused and it is straight football. I can't explain it. It's just one of those things. When the lights come on we put all the distractions away and are ready to go to work."
Individually, Shuler Bentley is spending his summer trying to get where he and Byrnes strength and conditioning coach Mike Srock want him to be at 195 pounds (20 pounds higher than where he played just a year ago) and he's almost there.
"I'm right at 193 pounds right now and we are hoping to get to 195," he said. "I think Coach Srock is the best strength and conditioning coach in the nation. He came to me after the season and said we are going to put on 20 pounds and that's what we are going to do." ??
Just don't expect the rising junior (he'll turn 17 soon) to slow down in the game anytime soon - even with as many camps and combines and 7-on-7 passing league scrimmages and workouts as there already are Shuler Bentley just wants you to keep giving him more. Go ahead and do it.
Give Bentley and his teammates more expectations.
Give them more work.
Give them more fun.
"With me, it's something I love," Bentley said. "I just love it and there is nothing I'd rather be doing."
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