HOOVER, Ala. – Not too long ago, Zach Mettenberger was Athens’ golden boy.
A three-year starting quarterback at Oconee High School, he was a Bulldog fan’s dream.
In the middle of his 2,016-yard, 19-touchdown senior season, with several offers on his plate, Mettenberger chose his hometown institution, announcing that he would be enrolling at the University of Georgia in the spring.
The dream quickly turned into a nightmare for Georgia fans when Mettenberger was charged with a count of misdemeanor sexual battery during April of his redshirt season.
Soon after, the team released him.
The transition was not an easy one for Mettenberger.
“It’s a pretty depressing 18-hour drive from Athens, Ga. going through cow pastures,” Mettenberger said. “It was tough, it was a very tough time in my life.”
The road did not end there for Zach Mettenberger, however.
Mettenberger spent the 2010 season at Butler Community College in Kansas, where he led his team to an 11-1 record and an appearance in the JUCO National Championship game.
Mettenberger threw for 2,678 yards and 32 touchdowns on 59 percent passing for Butler (KS).
This one-year stint in community college is what Mettenberger attributes to his increased maturity at the quarterback position.
“I definitely took the path less taken. Junior college ball really made me love the game again.” Mettenberger said. “I really have to thank my coach, Aaron Flores, and my junior college for getting me through that tough time and helping me love the game again.”
After the JUCO National Championship game run, Mettenberger received offers from LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, and Arkansas — ultimately choosing the Tigers in Baton Rouge.
“The biggest thing is that I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. I knew LSU had a great chance to win a national championship, or a couple, and I want to be a winner. I chose this place to be a part of a tradition
Many other schools were hesitant to offer Mettenberger because of his shaky past, but Miles was eager to give him another opportunity.
“I got the real view of the incidents and understand kind of what happened there, and recognize that certainly people make mistakes,” Miles said. “He's a guy that really has been, since that time, really done the right things and deserves an opportunity. Frankly, since we've had him, he's been a very, very quality teammate.”
During LSU’s 2011 SEC championship campaign, Mettenberger’s sophomore year was spent sitting behind seniors Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, something that even further developed him at quarterback.
“We had two senior leaders at the quarterback position ahead of me, both of them played in a lot of SEC football games, our offense was in good hands with Jarrett and Jordan. I just hope I can be half as good as they were last year and lead this team to a 13-0 regular season,” Mettenberger said.
Mettenberger did get the opportunity to take a few snaps during his sophomore season, but did not start any games.
He completed 8 of 11 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown. He also ran two times for 28 yards, one of those runs being a jaw-dropping 25-yard run down the sideline against Ole Miss.
Now, Mettenberger takes the reigns at quarterback in a league that is already strong at that position with the likes of Georgia’s Aaron Murray, Tennessee’s Tyler Bray, and Arkansas’s Tyler Wilson.
“I’ve been busting my tail every day this offseason to really try and earn the respect of my teammates,” he said.
With LSU coming off of an SEC Championship season, and preseason expectations being as high as they are, Mettenberger’s performance at the start of the year will be under much scrutiny.
Miles wants to make it clear that Mettenberger is ready for the challenge.
“The reality is he throws the ball extremely well,” he said. “So, you know, we're going to take advantage of some of those secondaries that want to crowd the front and try to stop the run. We suspect we'll see some more pass coverage and then have an opportunity to run it a little bit more. It's going to be more in the learning curve. The good news is he's not a young quarterback. He's had time. He's had a full junior college slate, been with us for a year in transition. Now it looks to me that he's kind of ready to go to the field.”
This increased scrutiny will be due in part to the shaky performance of Jefferson against Alabama in LSU’s National Championship Game loss in January.
The Tigers host the Crimson Tide this year on Nov. 3 in Baton Rouge in a game that could once again define LSU’s season.
Mettenberger, however, does not want to get to far ahead of himself.
“We have to worry about not getting beat by North Texas first game of the season,” Mettenberger said. “But, yeah, hopefully we can win the Alabama game, as well.”
If all works out as planned, LSU will be back in the SEC Championship game for the second year in a row, potentially with the opportunity to face his former team.
“It would definitely be fun to play against some of my best friends, some guys that I’ve enjoyed the college experience with,” Mettenberger said. “But then again, if I can lead this team to the SEC Championship then I’ve done a pretty good job and it doesn’t really matter to me who we play.”