HOOVER, Ala. - Zach Mettenberger plopped down in a seat at SEC media days on Wednesday, where he was one of three representatives from LSU, the defending SEC champion. A Heisman finalist, Tyrone Mathieu, was not there. But Mettenberger, a self-proclaimed former “outcast” from Georgia, was selected by his team to attend.
“It’s crazy, it’s total opposite ends of the spectrum, being a kind of outcast, to being a guy at SEC media days in Birmingham, and being a guy that all you guys are asking questions," Mettenberger said.
This has been a whirlwind for him. It has been more than two years since Mettenberger, a highly-touted freshman from Athens, was booted from the Georgia football team. Now he finds himself the starting quarterback for LSU.
“I definitely took the path less taken, I guess you could say,” Mettenberger said. “But I’m finally here, it’s my chance, my opportunity, and I’m gonna try to make the most of it.”
Fate works in interesting ways, as Mettenberger has discovered.
He could have been Georgia's starter this year. His ties to the Bulldogs run deep: His mother Tammy is still an administrative assistant in the Georgia football offices, her office a few yards away from head coach Mark Richt.
Back in 2010, Mettenberger was in a heated battle with Aaron Murray to be the starter. Murray won the competition, while Mettenberger struggled to stay out of trouble.
Mettenberger was asked Wednesday if he ever reflects on what happened at Georgia.
“It’s something I think about every day,” he said. “It’s definitely something I don’t want to be (in) that situation again. But at the same time God had his plan for me, and it’s worked out for the best. Hopefully I can take this opportunity and run with it.”
Mettenberger was booted from Georgia in April of 2010, following two off-field incidents, including an arrest following a bar incident in Valdosta. The final straw was an undisclosed violation of team rules just after spring practice. He then spent a year at Butler Community College in Kansas.
It wasn’t a great experience in many ways – the practice field was next to a smelly cow pasture. But the year there changed him.
“That’s a pretty depressing 18-hour drive from Athens, Ga., going through cornfields and what-not,” Mettenberger said. “It was tough. It was a tough time in my life. But junior college ball made me love the game again.”
He spent last year at LSU as a third-stringer, behind two seniors. But the job is his this year.
Mettenberger also still speaks with Murray. They both attended the Manning Camp last week, along with other top quarterbacks from around the country.
“Every now and then I’ll shoot coach (Mike) Bobo a text," Mettenberger said. "I haven’t really kept in contact with coach Richt much. Being a head coach in the SEC is a tough job and I don’t really want to distract him in any ways. But I still talk to a lot of players on that team. A lot of players I went through the recruiting process with, a lot of players I lived with. We still keep in contact.”
LSU head coach Les Miles fielded a number of questions about his new starting quarterback on Wednesday, including about Mettenberger's character.
"People make mistakes. Since then, he's been a guy who has really done the right things," Miles said.