It'll be interesting to see how Bench's new teammates react to his speech patterns when he makes the even longer trip from his Bainbridge, Ga., home to State College, where his colloquialisms might initially sound like a foreign language. But in the huddle, where quarterbacks are almost required to be take-charge guys, Bench had better be understood, if he is to be the key figure in O'Brien's offense that some recruiting analysts believe he must soon become.
Despite relatively modest evaluations by most recruiting services, some insist Bench is the most important of this year's recruits for O'Brien, the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots who won't assume his duties in Happy Valley on a full-time basis until the day after Super Bowl XLVI.
"I don't think they have a choice," Bob Lichtenfels, of Scouts.com, said of the need for O'Brien's revamped offensive staff to quickly develop a serviceable quarterback at a position that, for now, appears dangerously thin. "Bench had better be as good as [Penn State coaches] think he can be. Before too long, somebody there has to prove he can play."
Penn State's returning starter is redshirt senior Matt McGloin, but 2012 will be his final season, whether he goes boom or bust. Junior Rob Bolden has started 15 games in his career, but he has dropped hints about transferring in the past, and he might be looking for the exit again if McGloin hangs on to the top spot on the depth chart.
Redshirt sophomore Paul Jones is another former four-star recruit, but he has yet to take a varsity snap because of continuing academic issues. Behind him are Shane McGregor and Garrett Venuto, walk-ons with a thimbleful of game action between them.
The opportunity to make his mark sooner rather than later for a major college program and for a possible coach who has worked with future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady was enough to persuade Bench to change his college preference.
"Coach O'Brien is working with the best player in the NFL, in the Super Bowl," Bench said. "That speaks volumes, especially to a 17-year-old kid like me. I'm a huge Tom Brady fan, so it probably means more to me than it would to somebody else."
Bench didn't attract a lot of national attention through his junior year at Bainbridge High, possibly because the team's base offense was the run-heavy Veer. To improve his quarterbacking mechanics and opportunities to be noticed by recruiters, he transferred to nearby Cairo High as a senior.
In his one season with his new team, Bench passed for 11 touchdowns and ran for nine more scores to help the quaintly named Syrupmakers to an 11-3 record and a berth in the Georgia state semifinals in Class 3A.
"We run more of a pro-style offense," Cairo coach Tom Fallow said. "For being in our system for only one season, Steven did an extremely good job of adapting, which is about what you'd expect of someone as smart as he is. [Bench has a 3.86 GPA, of a possible 4.0].
"Mississippi State came in on him late. We were kind of expecting him to get more offers from big-time schools, but the one from Rice was probably the best he received. When Penn State showed interest, of course, he was flattered."
No knock on Rice, but the academically prestigious school, a member of the West Division of Conference USA, has an undergraduate enrollment of fewer than 4,000 and its 47,000-seat stadium is seldom even half-filled. When Bench visited Penn State, he was given rousing sales pitches from McGloin and offensive linemen Eric Shrive and Matt Stankiewitch, as well as from everyone else he stopped to buttonhole.
"There's 44,000 students and, as best as I could tell, everybody loves it there," said Bench, who also acknowledged getting chills down his back when he walked onto the field at 106,572-seat Beaver Stadium, which is almost always packed for home games.
Or maybe Bench had those chills because, well, it gets a lot colder in central Pennsylvania in late January than in Bainbridge, about a 30-minute drive north of Tallahassee, Fla.
"It is different, but not in a bad way," Bench said of his initial impression of Penn State. "When I got there, they had snow on the ground. I'm definitely not used to that. Then it snowed some more. But I think I'll adapt to it pretty quickly."