HE DIDN'T LEAVE HIS OFF-CAMPUS APARTMENT VERY OFTEN THIS SPRING. OTHER THAN attending practice, heading to throwing sessions with his wide receivers and occasionally enjoying dinner at a Buffalo Wild Wings with "the Fab Five"—his name for those wideouts—Zach Mettenberger kept a low profile in Baton Rouge. That was his plan. "I just stayed home and didn't do anything to put myself out there," Mettenberger says. "I'm doing everything I can to be the guy that can make plays and lead this team to an undefeated season."
Mettenberger certainly looks the part of a big-time quarterback. At 6' 5" and 222 pounds he has NFL size. The Tigers' staff raves about Mettenberger's arm strength and accuracy, and Les Miles is so smitten with his QB that he's planning to incorporate more mid- and long-range passes into LSU's offense in 2012. But along with the physical gifts came problems. Miles admits he had reservations about offering Mettenberger a scholarship because of the quarterback's background.
In March 2010, Mettenberger, then in his second year at Georgia, was arrested and charged with, among lesser charges, sexual battery of a woman at a bar in Remerton, Ga. Mettenberger pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of sexual battery. He was sentenced to two concurrent 12-month probationary periods, ordered to pay $2,000 in fines and perform 40 hours of community service. That April he was dismissed from the team.
When pleading guilty, Mettenberger apologized publicly to "the young lady my actions most directly affected." He added, "I deeply regret my actions of that night and ... I intend to do everything in my power to ... rebuild the trust people had in me."
For Mettenberger, those steps were a start. He spent the 2010 season at Butler (Kans.) Community College, where he threw 32 TDs (with only four picks) and led Butler to the juco national championship game. After the season several recruiting services named Mettenberger the top-ranked junior college quarterback. He got scholarship offers from, among others, Alabama, Texas A&M and Arkansas. Though Miles rarely recruits juco players, he offered Mettenberger a scholarship after several lengthy conversations. "We did our homework and met with Zach and talked to people in Georgia," the coach said. "He was remorseful. We came to the conclusion he deserved a second chance."
Says Mettenberger, "I chose LSU because I wanted to go to a place where we had a shot at the national title. When I got here on my visit, the fan support was amazing. It was an easy decision."
Last season for LSU, Mettenberger threw only 11 passes in five games and watched the quarterback combination of Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee struggle. Now Miles believes that Mettenberger—a former four-star prospect from Oconee County High in Watkinsville, Ga.—can thrive in the SEC. "Zach has taken on a leadership role," Miles says. "He knows his number is going to be called, and he's responding. We saw that he was a great teammate at Butler, and that's what he's been here. He's learned a lesson or two, and he's ready to have a big season."
"Zach can put the ball in places I've never seen," says safety Eric Reid. "He always seems to put it to where only the wide receiver can get it. I got frustrated this spring because we weren't making as many plays in the secondary as we did in the past because Zach was so on. He's extremely talented."
And, to be sure, he's extremely ready to move on from his past.