Mettenberger comes home
ATHENS, Ga. -- Zach Mettenberger stirred up a lot of talk this week, especially for a trip back home.
Mettenberger, a Watkinsville native and graduate of Oconee County High School, will make his first trip back to Sanford Stadium on Saturday as No. 6 LSU’s (4-0, 1-0 SEC) starting quarterback since being kicked off the team in the spring of 2010.
Mettenberger signed with the Bulldogs in 2009 alongside now-Georgia starting quarterback Aaron Murray as the No. 11 pro-style quarterback in the nation by Rivals.com, but redshirted his freshman year in hope of earning the starting quarterback role the next season.
The Oconee County grad competed with Murray and Logan Gray for the starting job in the spring of 2010, but his time was cut short following an arrest for allegedly grabbing the breasts and buttocks of a woman at a bar in Remerton, Ga. during spring break. He was also arrested on a series of alcohol-related charges at the time, but those were later dropped.
Mettenberger’s dismissal was made that much harder for Georgia head coach Mark Richt due to his previous relationship with Mettenberger, stemming from his mother’s 14-year career as an administrative assistant for Georgia.
“It’s difficult anytime a situation gets to the point where I might have to dismiss a guy from the team,” Richt said. “To do it to Zach, knowing Zach for as long as we knew Zach, his mom and dad, they’re family to us, and they’re still family to the Georgia program so it was very difficult. I think he understood, it wasn’t easy for me, it wasn’t easy for him, in the end I’m proud of how he responded to it.”
Following his release from Georgia, Mettenberger went on to play junior college ball for Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan., where he had much success. During his one season with the Grizzlies, Mettenberger threw for 2,678 yards and 32 touchdowns leading his team to an 11-0 record before losing the junior college national championship game.
After a season in Kansas, Mettenberger transferred into LSU where he spent his first season behind Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson, and didn’t see a snap in LSU’s 42-10 victory over the Bulldogs in the 2011 SEC championship game.
During the 2013 season, Mettenberger has led the Tigers to a 4-0 record behind 1,026 yards passing and 10 touchdowns, while only throwing one interception — ranking him fifth nationally in pass efficiency.
Former teammates and Richt alike are happy for Mettenberger, and even in a week where the two will face off, senior tight end Arthur Lynch isn’t afraid to admit it.
“To get thrown out of your literally hometown school is nothing easy for the coaches or for him, but for him to go out to Kansas, do what he did there, lead his team to a national championship out there and have a bunch of success,” Lynch said. “To go to LSU and play behind a guy that, in my opinion, I think he was better than early on, that’s a whole other thing. I’m just happy it’s working out for him.”
Lynch continues to speak with Mettenberger on a regular basis since his dismissal, and has been an advocate of his former teammate all along. He wants the best for his Saturday-opponent and doesn’t want his return to be overshadowed by negative light.
“I texted him last [Friday] night saying ESPN was finally giving him some credit, and I was like ‘Nobody deserves it more than you man. You stuck it out in a tough situation on spring break,’ which I don’t want to get into that, I’ll hold my opinions for me and him privately,” he said. “I think he was put on the negative side of things. I love the kid like a brother ... He ended up at LSU, and people love him down there. That’s all I care about, not to be in the negative light but the positive.”
Mettenberger is sure to be showered in boos by Georgia fans when his name is announced or he takes his first snap on Saturday, but from past experiences, Blake Sailors doesn’t think it will affect his former high school quarterback’s mentality.
“It’s going to be Gameday, so all the spotlight’s going to be on his game,” said Sailors who graduated with Mettenberger from Oconee County in 2009. “I don’t think he’s worried about all the outside noise. I’m sure he’s getting asked a lot of questions about is it going to be weird. I don’t think he’s worried about that. I haven’t asked him or anything, but just knowing him he’s really good at ignoring that stuff and just focusing on what he needs to do.”
And his prediction seems to be correct.
“It is just another game,” Mettenberger told LSU reporters on Monday.
But Lynch doesn’t believe in his former teammates cliché response.
“I know he wants to come in here and obviously win for more reasons than just playing for LSU,” he said. “He’s going to be very emotional, but he is going to be hyped. He’s going to play with a chip on his shoulder, which is dangerous because he kind of has that moxie about him.”