HOOVER, Ala. — Zach Mettenberger thinks about it every day. He likes where he is now. He likes that he’s the new starting quarterback at LSU, one of the best teams in the country.
But he also thinks about what went wrong at Georgia. He still talks to people there, and not just his mother Tammy, who works in the Georgia football offices.
Mettenberger might have been Georgia’s starting quarterback if not for some off-field incidents. Two years later, after a difficult journey, he found himself at SEC Media Days, one of three representatives from LSU.
“It’s something I think about every day,” Mettenberger said. “It’s definitely something I don’t want to be (in) that situation again. But at the same time, God had his plan for me, and it’s worked out for the best. Hopefully I can take this opportunity and run with it.”
Mettenberger was dismissed from Georgia after spring practice in April of 2010, following two off-field incidents: The first was a bar incident in Valdosta, which led to an arrest of five misdemeanor charges. The final straw was an undisclosed team violation, which led to his dismissal just after spring practice ended.
Mettenberger then spent a year at Butler Community College in Kansas. It wasn’t a great experience in many ways — the practice field was next to a smelly cow pasture. But the year there changed him.
“That’s a pretty depressing 18-hour drive from Athens, Ga., going through cornfields and what-not,” Mettenberger said. “It was tough. It was a tough time in my life. But junior college ball made me love the game again.”
LSU head coach Les Miles is confident that his new starting quarterback has learned from the past.
“People make mistakes. Since then, he’s been a guy who has really done the right things,” Miles said.
Mettenberger also still speaks with Aaron Murray, his former competitor for the starting job. They both attended the Manning Camp last week, along with other top quarterbacks from around the country.
Mettenberger also still texts with Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and remains close friends with many current Bulldogs players. But LSU is his home now.
“It’s crazy; it’s total opposite ends of the spectrum, being a kind of outcast to being a guy at SEC Media Days in Birmingham and being a guy that all you guys are asking questions,” he said.
Arkansas head coach John L. Smith, hired to replace Bobby Petrino for at least this season, was the big star Wednesday. Smith’s one-liners and reactions to questions were a nice change of pace. He drew his biggest laugh when asked if he would like to be Arkansas’ head coach for more than this season.
“Well, certainly. Do I look stupid?” he said to laughter before adding, “Don’t answer that.” When a reporter he knows well asked a question, Smith deadpanned, “Could we move on to the next question, at least one with intelligence?”
Perhaps it was too deadpan, as Smith had to break the awkward silence by making it clear he was kidding.
“He has a swag about himself, which is really funny and enthusiastic,” Arkansas defensive end Tenarius Wright said.
Several Razorbacks players, including quarterback Tyson Wilson and tailback Knile Davis, said Petrino called them recently to apologize for the first time.
“There’s genuine remorse there,” Wilson said.
One potentially awkward situation is that Petrino’s brother Paul is still at Arkansas, serving as the offensive coordinator. Wilson recounted how Paul Petrino dealt with the controversy during spring practice.
“He didn’t show a lot of emotion during it. He was a ball coach,” Wilson said. “It was a tough time. He did his job.”
Keep it in Jacksonville
Florida head coach Will Muschamp was asked, being a former Georgia player, what he thought about keeping the annual rivalry game in Jacksonville, Fla. Muschamp called it a “great tradition,” then added, “Coach (Vince) Dooley never complained about it being there.”
In the past, Georgia head coach Mark Richt has voiced a preference for playing it in Atlanta in alternate years. But Richt has given up on any public lobbying.