For Watkinsville, Ga. native Zach Mettenberger, it was always about Athens.
As a longtime Bulldogs fan Mettenberger had always envisioned playing for the home state team, and when Mark Richt gave him a scholarship, even a fellow high-profile prospect like Aaron Murray couldn’t keep him away.
After a redshirt season, Mettenberger battled Murray last spring for the starting job. Some felt Mettenberger had the upper hand. Others were just pleased that Georgia was building depth at quarterback.
Then it was over.
A March arrest on misdemeanor sexual battery charges and a series of alcohol-related charges (which were later dropped) turned into $2,000 in fines, and Mettenberger was ordered to perform 40 hours of community service during two concurrent, 12-month probationary periods.
While his name would be cleared, his time at UGA would end.
By mid April, Mettenberger was dismissed from the program.
After tasting the SEC, Mettenberger – tabbed as one of the promising young arms in the conference - was now headed to a junior college. Though thoughts of quitting football raced through his head, Mettenberger packed his bags and drove to Kansas anyways.
His next stop: Butler Community College.
Over the next few months Mettenberger quietly got his life in order, and Les Miles earned a special distinction as the first coach willing to give him another shot.
“That was big for me,” Mettenberger recalled. “That kind of let me know that getting back into the SEC was a possibility. Things were up in the air right after I left Georgia, so for coach Miles to offer me a scholarship at that point let me know he was really after me.”
After leading his team to the Citizen’s Bank Bowl, considered the default national championship on the JUCO level, Mettenberger had plenty of other suitors. By season’s end, Alabama, Arizona, Cincinnati, Louisville, Ole Miss and Troy had also offered.
No matter, the deal was done – and on Wednesday it became final when Mettenberger signed with LSU as the team’s lone midterm addition from the JUCO circuit.
“I am excited to be part of the Tiger family, and I’m just ready to get over and get to work as soon as possible,” Mettenberger told TigerSportsDigest.com on Wednesday.
It was the first day that midterm enrollees from junior college could sign with their school of choice.
Mettenberger, who committed to LSU during his official visit on Nov. 20 but did not go public until Dec. 6, gives LSU three scholarship quarterbacks for the spring, two of which are entering their senior campaigns.
He will be eligible to play next fall.
“He’s a big, tall thrower,” said Miles of the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Mettenberger. “And he appears to run the offense at the JUCO very, very well. He has the leadership.”
Mettenberger was named the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 2,678 yards, 32 touchdowns and just four interceptions this fall.
Though initial plans had Mettenberger set to arrive to campus before Christmas, paperwork issues have tentatively pushed the date back to January, making him unavailable for bowl practices.
“He has to be admitted and on board and squared away, and there is some paperwork there,” Miles said. “I’m not certain he won’t be (here in January) at this point, but we have to make certain we do things right.”
Stacked up against a struggling pair of passers in Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, Mettenberger’s been told that he will be a part of a three-way battle this offseason for the starting job.
“Without expecting too much, we just look forward to his arrival,” Miles said. “He will be here in January and we will play ball with him in the spring.”
For Mettenberger, it’s simply about taking the next step.
“It’s a day I’ve been waiting for,” he said. “And I think this team can do big things in the near future.”