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July 18, 2012
HOOVER, Ala. - Consider it a lesson learned.
That's the way former Georgia and now LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger put it Wednesday when asked about his journey, one that went from Athens to El Dorado, Kan., and finally to Baton Rouge, where he'll be the starting quarterback for a Tiger team that lost to Alabama in the BCS Championship Game.
It's definitely given him pause to reflect on a career that was one time in question.
"It's something I think about every day," Mettenberger said. "I just know I don't want to be in that situation again, but at the same time God had a plan for me and it's worked out for the best. Hopefully, I can take this opportunity and run with it."
Mettenberger's story is a familiar one to Bulldog fans.
The former Oconee County High standout was kicked off the Georgia team on April 17 of 2010 following his arrest in Remerton, and subsequently pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual battery, before getting a second chance at Butler Community College where he excelled before landing with the Tigers last year.
Mettenberger admitted the days following his dismissal from Georgia were the lowest of his young life.
"It's a pretty depressing feeling, driving 18 hours from Athens, going through corn fields and what-not," he said. "It was tough. But junior college ball really made me love the game again."
Although difficult, the move turned out to be the proper one.
In one season at Butler, Mettenberger led his team to an 11-1 mark and a berth in the JUCO National Championship Game, throwing for 2,678 yards and 32 touchdowns.
His experience at Butler also helped him to appreciate the opportunity he now has with LSU.
"There's a huge oil refinery right there on campus so it's not too pleasant a smell walking to and from practice, but also the practice field is right next to a cow pasture so the combination of those two smells is pretty horrific, but we got through it," Mettenberger said. "It was a daily reminder. A lot of my good friends played three years of junior college and didn't get the opportunity to play at a bigger school. I definitely made the most of my opportunity, played well at junior college, and now I'm back playing big-time football, which is where I wanted to be."
Still, Mettenberger admitted it all felt a bit surreal being at SEC Media Days, especially considering he's yet to start a game in the SEC, and with another famous teammate - Tyrann (Honey Badger) Mathieu - back home in Baton Rouge.
"It's crazy. It's totally opposite ends of the spectrum, going from being kind of an outcast to here at SEC Media Days, having all you guys standing around me asking me questions," Mettenberger said. "But it's something I've wanted to do my whole life, something I've looked forward to. I'm ready for that challenge."
LSU coach Les Miles said Mettenberger had done everything he's been asked, and was more than willing to give the former Bulldog another chance.
"I certainly reviewed those guys that we recruit. I got the real view of the incidents and understand kind of what happened there, and recognize that certainly people make mistakes," said Miles, who did not answer a direct question regarding whether or not he spoke with Bulldog head coach Mark Richt. "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."
Mettenberger said he's worked hard to earn his new teammates' trust.
"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 and I think I've been opening up eyes of some guys on the team that I have a great work ethic and want to lead our team to a bunch of wins this year."
Although he expressed interest in a number of schools, including Alabama, Mettenberger said the only two he visited were LSU and Texas A&M.
"I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. I knew LSU had a great chance to win a national championship, or a couple. I want to be a winner. If college football is the last chance I have to play football I want to win a couple of rings. It's something to talk about," he said. "I chose this place for the tradition and the opportunity to be part of a team that's going to be a powerhouse and win some games."
Although he's started a new chapter in his football life, Mettenberger hasn't forgotten his old friends.
Ironically, Mettenberger and former teammate Aaron Murray recently took part in the prestigious Manning Passing Academy, run by Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning.
He also keeps in touch with many other current Bulldogs, along with his former position coach at Georgia, Mike Bobo.
"Every now and then I'll shoot Coach Bobo a text. I really haven't kept in contact with Coach Richt that much. Being a head coach in the SEC is a tough job and I don't want to distract him in any way," Mettenberger said. "But I still talk to a lot of players on that team. There' a lot of guys I went through the recruiting process with for a year and half."
But now, there's new friends and a new chapter to write.
"It's a day-to-day journey," Mettenberger said. "I'm just trying to learn, progress and be the person that has a positive influence on this team."