Physically, there's still a lot of work to do for LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger before he gets a crack to run the Tigers' offense.
Politically, though, the well-traveled sophomore is right where he needs to be as his Division I career finally gets ready to start.
For the first time he arrived on campus last spring, the strong-armed Georgia native met with the media Tuesday at LSU Media Day.
While his past problems with an arrest for sexually harassing a female bar patron weren't a primary topic of conversation, he was quick to allude to how he has learned from his mistakes.
And there was no hint of entitlement for a talented quarterback who, despite a rocky road traveled, is in position to inherit the Tigers' starting quarterback job next fall at the latest.
With a fresh start as his foundation, Mettenberger sounded like a young quarterback eager for a chance but ready to bide his time behind seniors Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee.
"Right now I'm third on the depth chart and that's reasonable," said Mettenberger, who was in competition for the starting job at Georgia with Aaron Murray in the spring of 2010. "I mean, I'm behind two guys who have been here for four years. I'm just looking to learn as much as I can from two guys who have really put in some time in the SEC. They're both really good quarterbacks, both won a lot of games for LSU, and right now I'm just trying to learn as much as I can from them."
Watching and learning will be a new experience for the 6-foot-5, 222-pound QB with raw pro potential.
He was a three-year starter at Oconee County High in Watkinsville, Ga., and spent last season effectively slinging the ball all over the field for Butler County (Kans.) Community College to the tune of 2,678 yards with 32 touchdown throws.
With LSU's quarterback depth bolstered this season with the addition of three scholarship signal-callers and a preferred walk-on, Mettenberger won't have to toil as the scout team QB. But he will have to wait in line behind the veterans Jefferson and Lee.
"When I was getting recruited, I didn't look at I was going to come in and start right away," Mettenberger said. "Obviously Jordan is in a position to be the winningest quarterback in LSU history. It's not like I was just going to walk in and take his job. I knew worst-case scenario I still had two years to play and, for me, that's fine. I do look to get some game experience, but right now it's definitely Jordan's job and Jarrett is the backup."
That pecking order may seem a little out of whack for some LSU fans – with Lee remaining the backup. But it also explains why the senior from Brenham, Texas, stuck around instead of chasing a final season at a Football Championship Sub-Division program where he might've gotten a chance to start.
There's no question Mettenberger is talented, but his readiness may not be on par yet with his potential. Not that any first-year Division I player could be completely prepared against the level of defenses Mettenberger will encounter in the SEC.
"He is a tremendous talent and a guy that needs to mature," LSU coach Les Miles said of Mettenberger. "He's coming to speed. You have to give him time to mature, and once you do he will be fine."
Added newly appointed offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa, ""His development is continuing. Like anything else, when you bring a kid into a system like this, he has to learn the offense and get to know (quarterbacks coach Steve Kragthorpe) as well. Zach is doing well. In the off-season, he had a real chance to improve. He stuck around this summer and is throwing the ball really well."
That Mettenberger is back on the football field at this level at all is an important subplot to his football career.
In early March of 2010, Mettenberger was arrested in Remerton, Ga., for groping a woman in a bar. He was sentenced to two concurrent 12-month periods of probation by the Lowndes County district attorney, ordered to pay $2,000 in fines and performed 40 hours of community service. Additional charges against Mettenberger of disorderly conduct, possession a false ID and underage possession of alcohol were dropped.
In a statement released through his attorney after the case was settled, Mettenberger said "I deeply regret my actions of that night and can assure that these actions will never happen again. I intend to do everything in my power to restore my image and rebuild the trust people had in me before."
Although the legal ramifications were much less severe than they could've been, Georgia coach Mark Richt dismissed Mettenberger – whose mother Tammy works in the Bulldogs' football office – from the program.
Thrust into college football no-man's land, Mettenberger opted for a season at the JUCO level so he could get back to a D-I program as quickly as possible.
In a low-key recruiting process in which he visited only Baton Rouge and Texas A&M, Mettenberger had a very specific goal in mind.
"I wanted to come to place where I thought I had the best chance to win a national title be part of something bigger than myself," Mettenberger said. "(At) LSU we have a lot of great players and I really think for the three years while I'm here, we have three really good chances of winning national titles every year."
Once Mettenberger steps on the field for the Tigers – which he hopes is this season at some point – his past will likely fade quickly into a distant memory.
For now, though, he said he wants to keep what happened and how he's bounced back from it nearby so he can use it as motivation.
"Like my mom says, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," he said. "I'm learning from my experiences. I don't regret it. It was definitely hard for me and my family. We've all moved on and hopefully I get a fresh start here and everybody will move on as well.
"Getting in trouble and going through all that, you've got to grow up and realize my life wasn't going in the right direction. I had to learn (from) a tough mistake, but I'm glad that it happened. I've really matured and grown from it."
Mettenberger: Humbled and patient
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