HOOVER, Ala. — It’s been a hectic last week for Zach Mettenberger.
So much so that his 21st birthday on Monday may have been lost in the shuffle.
“I didn’t really celebrate,” Mettenberger said Wednesday at the Southeastern Conference Media Days. “I came back from the Manning camp — it was a long weekend — and I had to prepare for this, so I really haven’t even celebrated my birthday yet.”
The former Georgia quarterback was one of three LSU player representatives at the event even though he has yet to take a meaningful snap for the Tigers.
The junior will be a key player as he takes over as a starter in the SEC.
Just like he envisioned. Except it’s in Baton Rouge instead of in his backyard in Athens.
“It’s something that I’m really, really looking forward to,” Mettenberger said. “Playing big-time college football’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid.”
Mettenberger, who starred at Oconee County High in Watkinsville, worked his way back to this position after a season at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan., following his dismissal from Georgia. He plead guilty to two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery.
“It’s a pretty depressing 18-hour drive from Athens, Ga., going through the cornfields and what not,” Mettenberger said noting the smell of an oil refinery near campus and a cow pasture near the practice field. “It was tough. It was a tough time in my life. Junior college ball really made me love the game again.”
In the spring of 2010, he was competing with another redshirt freshman, Aaron Murray, for the starting job at Georgia.
Then he was off the team.
“It’s crazy,” Mettenberger said. “It’s total opposite ends of the spectrum being kind of an outcast to being the guy at SEC Media Days in Birmingham.”
Mettenberger and Murray, former roommates, got a chance to hang out again last week at the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La.
“It’s fun,” Mettenberger said. “We’re really the same people we were when we met four years ago. We’re the same high school kids that we know each other as. It’s always fun to go back and see guys down the line and just continue friendships with guys.”
Murray tweeted that he was going out one night with Mettenberger and Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley among others. Mettenberger said he and Murray do group texting with Barkley and other quarterbacks.
Mettenberger’s mother, Tammy, still works in the Georgia football office.
He’s hoping that family members can make it to all the games this season.
“They’re very supportive and love me a lot,” Mettenberger said. “I appreciate that about them. Hopefully they’ll come to a lot of games this year.”
Mettenberger has thrown all of 11 passes at LSU in his one season. He completed eight of them for 92 yards and a touchdown in five games.
Contrast that with the other quarterbacks making appearances here this week.
Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson, Tennessee’s Tyler Bray, South Carolina’s Connor Shaw, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Rodgers and Mississippi State’s Tyler Russell have started a combined 45 games.
“Obviously he can throw it,” said Wilson, who also took part in the Manning camp. “I think everybody can at this point. Everybody can throw it. It’s what you do at the line of scrimmage and in the film room. That sort of stuff. Obviously we weren’t able to go into that much depth, but he’s definitely a pretty good player.”
LSU receiver Odell Beckham said Mettenberger has “one of the strongest arms I’ve seen.”
LSU coach Les Miles said Mettenberger “is going to give us a really nice quarterback.”
Mettenberger didn’t play in the BCS title game when Alabama defeated LSU 21-0.
“The other two quarterbacks at that time were more advanced,” said Miles, who said Mettenberger dealt with a hand injury in bowl practice.
“Let’s roll with it, I guess,” Mettenberger said when told that. Mettenberger said he did hit his hand on a helmet, but could have still played if his number was called.
The 6-foot-5, 222-pound Mettenberger should get plenty of chances this year.
“I’m excited for Zach,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said last week. “Known him forever, it seems like. Watched him grow up. He’s always been bigger than everybody else and never could catch up with his body. I knew he had a chance to be something special early on if he could grow into that body.”
The good thing, Mettenberger said, “fortunately I’ve quit growing the last five years. I haven’t gotten any taller. I was the same size I was at 16 years old and that’s tough.”
Mettenberger and Bobo keep in touch, mostly through texting.
Bobo said he’s excited that Mettenberger has “a chance to go start over his career and he’s at a place like LSU and has a chance to can contend for a national championship and be the star of that program. I’m excited for him and hope he does well.”
Mettenberger said he thinks every day about went wrong at Georgia and he doesn’t want to be in that situation again.
“People make mistakes,” said Miles, who said that Mettenberger has been “very dependable.”
Mettenbeger may have gotten the best birthday present already.
“I’m back in big-time football where I wanted to be,” he said. “It’s worked out for the best. Hopefully I can take this opportunity and run with it.”