ATLANTA -- As soon as the matchup was set, Blake Sailors sent a text to his old buddy. It may be a bit weird seeing Zach Mettenberger in an LSU uniform, but Sailors, the Georgia special-teams star, is excited.
“I was hoping they would actually win, because I wanted to see them,” Sailors said. “I wish he was actually playing, though, so if we beat them I could talk crap and stuff. But I’m looking forward to seeing him. I’ve missed him.”
The fact that LSU has Mettenberger, once the Bulldogs’ quarterback-of-the-future, has not been a major story this week is because he’s only a third-stringer. But there will be plenty of happy reunions before Saturday’s SEC championship -- despite the way Mettenberger left.
He still has plenty of friends on the team, and he has been back to Athens since being dismissed from the team two years ago.
“He was very well-liked on the team,” said Austin Long, one of Mettenberger’s roommates at Georgia. “He still keeps up with all of us, too.”
Then there’s this potentially awkward fact: Mettenberger’s mother, Tammy, is still an administrative secretary in Georgia’s football office.
“It’s kind of weird,” Long said. “But everyone in here loves her. And she’s been here for so long, it’s really not that weird.”
Two springs ago, Mettenberger lost out in a heated competition with Aaron Murray for the starting quarterback job. But before that, on March 7, Mettenberger was arrested outside a bar in Valdosta and charged with five misdemeanors. A little more than a month later Mettenberger was dismissed from the team for an undisclosed violation of team rules, which Georgia said was not related to a new arrest.
Sailors went to high school with Mettenberger and has remained close with him.
“Honestly he wished it hadn’t happened,” Sailors said. “He’ll still say to this day, ‘I wish I had never gone to Valdosta.’ Because it was just a terrible situation. But everything happened for a reason. He’s doing great down there. He’ll play next year, I’m sure. He’ll win games; he’ll do his thing. It’ll all fall in place for him.”
LSU has limited Mettenberger’s availability to the media this season. After his dismissal, Mettenberger transferred to Butler (Kansas) Community College, which he led to the JUCO national title game.
This year, there was some thought that Mettenberger could see some significant action. But seniors Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson have played well enough that Mettenberger has only played in five games, attempting 11 passes.
Next year, however, Mettenberger enters as the favorite to start.
“He’s a tough guy and a competitor,” Georgia junior linebacker Christian Robinson said. “Things didn’t go the way he wanted. But I think this is going to be a good move for him long-term, and I’m excited to see him on Saturday.”
In one way, this is also the reverse of Georgia’s first game at the Georgia Dome this season. It had a walk-on quarterback, Mike Tamburo, who had transferred from Boise State.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt acknowledged that LSU might be picking Mettenberger’s brain on the Bulldogs’ offensive calls. But Richt didn’t think it would do much good. “We’ve also gone to a no-huddle since Zach has gone, and we have code names and hand singles that he has no idea about,” Richt said. “I don’t think it will be a factor, but it could be.”
In the end, the biggest impact Mettenberger could have is before the game, when the reunions happen.
“Obviously he’s pumped,” Sailors said. “It’s a great game. He’s excited to go up against Georgia and see a bunch of players that he still misses. That’s the kind of stuff we’ve been talking about.”