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Long wait nearly over for Tech's Bennett

ATLANTA - The wait frustrated Taylor Bennett.

No, not the eight months he's waited to back up his spectacular debut performance as Georgia Tech's starting quarterback in the Gator Bowl.

It's the three-and-half hours the Bennett backers spent at Georgia Tech's fan day waiting for his autograph.

"It was humbling, but I felt bad for them," Bennett said. "I know my signature's not worth that."

But the worst part, in Bennett's opinion, was organizers cut his line off midway through the event.

"I felt so bad," Bennett said. "Some little kid got turned away, I'm sure. I hate that we had to do that. I would have sat out there all night."

Bennett is used to waiting, after all. He spent three seasons - minus one game - as Reggie Ball's understudy. His patience finally rewarded in the Gator Bowl, where he threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns, Bennett's waited eight more months to back it up.

His encore finally comes Saturday, eight months to the day since the Gator Bowl, in arguably college football's most storied venue: Notre Dame Stadium.

Yet Bennett's shown the same poise in the offseason as he did against West Virginia on New Year's Day. The teammate who knows him best, wide receiver James Johnson, said the wait has been easy for Bennett.

"It's left him overanxious maybe, but how couldn't he be?" said Johnson, who's been Bennett's roommate since their freshman year. "He had one shot at it, was great, and hasn't been able to back it up. People are still wondering can he back it up? But it really hasn't been that tough on him."

Bennett might be the only one. Like Johnson said, Yellow Jacket fans have been beside themselves about Bennett since New Year's. Bennett questions dominated conversations head coach Chan Gailey had with fans and alums on the offseason chicken-dinner circuit.

"I've had to temper people," Gailey said. "Everybody thinks he's going to just step right in and pick up where he left off. Hey, he's played well, but let's not all the sudden knight him or anything."

Bennett wouldn't accept the "Sir" title anyway. He shrugs off his newfound celebrity on campus and with fans. He did likewise this summer at the Shane Matthews Fun-n-Gun Football Camp, held in Gainesville, Fla., and frequented by coaches and players from the Jacksonville area. The Gator Bowl made Bennett a popular counselor.

One compliment did move Bennett's needle. It came from Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, another quarterback whose camp Bennett worked.

"A lot of people saw the Gator Bowl evidently," Bennett said. "Peyton himself commented on it. It felt pretty good to have him say something."

Bennett plans to give fans more to talk about. Throwing for 300 yards every game this season is unrealistic, he said, but he admits he can improve on the Gator Bowl showing.

The Jackets lost that game, after all, with Bennett throwing a costly interception deep in West Virginia territory in the second half.

"I have expectations for myself," he said. "I plan to follow up everything that happened in Jacksonville and then some. The more you go, the better you have to get. It's time for me to step up and start performing."

He could learn to sign autographs faster, too. Not everybody likes to wait.