Mettenberger doesn’t shy away from spotlight of being LSU QB
“We were 13-0 at one point. It’s hard to throw in the third-string guy when you’re winning ballgames and being successful.” ZACH METTENBERGER, LSU quarterback
HOOVER, Ala. — Zach Mettenberger sat down at a table full of microphones and peered out at a platoon of TV cameras aimed at him.
“It’s like a microphone graveyard,” Mettenberger said.
He had to admit, the butterflies were running fly patterns inside his belly at the prospect of facing horde after horde of reporters at Southeastern Conference Media Days. But like the job of being LSU’s starting quarterback, it’s a task he was hoping he would be asked to perform.
“I do enjoy fielding questions and being in the spotlight,” Mettenberger said Wednesday. “Some guys don’t. It shows I’m a leader of this team and I’m appreciative of coach (Les) Miles for letting me come.”
It’s an abrupt run up through the gear box for Mettenberger as he shifts from being third-string scenery last season to starting quarterback of what the college football world expects will once again be a national championship-caliber LSU squad.
It is Mettenberger who must take the wheel if the Tigers are to find their road down to Miami for this season’s BCS title game. It’s a task he both relishes and has yearned for, as long as he can remember.
“I’ve been ready since I was a little kid starting to play football,” Mettenberger said. “This is what I’ve been dreaming to do, and I’m really excited about my chance.”
Being here to serve as a team spokesman was something Mettenberger saw as the latest opportunity to flex his leadership muscle, part of making this LSU team his own.
“I’ve been busting my tail every day this offseason to earn the respect of my teammates,” he said. “I’ve been working really hard. I think I’ve opened the eyes of some guys on the team that I have a great work ethic and that I want to lead them to a bunch of wins this year.”
If it weren’t for an infamous lapse of judgment, Mettenberger might be here Thursday representing Georgia as its starting quarterback. He was kicked off the team there in 2009 after being arrested and later pleading guilty to two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery from an incident at a bar near Valdosta, Ga.
Exiled from his hometown team — Mettenberger hails from Watkinsville, Ga., right outside Athens, where his mother Tammy works in the Georgia football office — Zach spent the 2010 season playing quarterback at Butler Community College in Kansas.
“It’s a pretty depressing 18-hour drive from Athens, Ga., going through the cornfields,” Mettenberger said. “It was a tough time in my life. But junior college ball really made me love the game again.”
Mettenberger threw for 2,678 yards, 32 touchdowns and only four interceptions as he led Butler to the junior college national championship game. Recruited by several schools, including Alabama and Arkansas, he eventually chose LSU over Texas A&M.
“He has been on a long journey and been through a lot,” said LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who also attended Media Days. “That really just shows his character, how much he’s matured, where he is now and what he’s ready to do.”
A year as understudy to seniors Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee has finally led Mettenberger here, to the brink of a season he long dreamed about but perhaps was never sure he’d reach.
“It’s crazy, total opposite ends of the spectrum from being kind of an outcast to being the guy at SEC Media Days, having all you guys standing around asking me questions,” he said. “But it’s something I’ve wanted to do my whole life.”
A consensus top-150 national prospect coming out of Oconee County High School, Mettenberger’s talent has never been in question. Last week at the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, Beckham said he caught passes from a number of quarterbacks, but that only USC’s Matt Barkley matched Mettenberger’s arm strength.
“Really, it’s whatever kind of year he wants to have,” Beckham said. “I tell him all the time, ‘You’re a first-rounder. You’re incredible.’ ”
If Mettenberger is all that, why then didn’t he beat out Jefferson or Lee last season — especially when LSU’s offense failed to score in the BCS national championship game against Alabama?
“We had two senior leaders at the quarterback position ahead of me, and both of them had played a lot of SEC football games,” Mettenberger said. “And we were 13-0 at one point. It’s hard to throw in the third-string guy when you’re winning ballgames and being successful.”
Miles also said Mettenberger was injured — Zach said he hit the thumb on his throwing hand on center Ben Domingue’s helmet in a pre-BCS practice — though the quarterback said he could have played.
“At no point last year do I think I should have played,” Mettenberger said. “I wanted to play. That’s what you want as a competitor. But our team was definitely in good hands with Jordan and Jarrett.
“If I can be half as good as they were last year and lead our team to a 13-0 season at one point, I think I’d be doing the team justice.”
Miles said he likes the leadership he’s seen from Mettenberger this offseason.
“Leadership isn’t something you do at Media Days,” the coach said. “It’s something you do at every practice. It’s every quarterback-center exchange. It’s being persistent. It’s suggesting what is needed to be excellent and do it every day.
“I think he’s doing that. I’m not going to let him do it any other way. I’m not going to let him overstep where he needs to be. And he understands. He really takes coaching. I look forward to this quarterback’s play.”
As for the butterflies before that first major college start Sept. 1 against North Texas, Mettenberger said he won’t be as nervous as he was Wednesday.
“I don’t usually get too nervous for ballgames,” he said.