HOOVER, Ala. – A short time ago I had the pleasure of having a semi-exclusive interview with LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger before he began to make the media rounds here at the Wynfrey Hotel. A couple of LSU beat writers and I were able to spend 10 minutes talking to Mettenberger in the Buckingham Room here soon after he and his coach and teammates arrived for SEC Media Days.
Mettenberger is, of course, a former Georgia player who was dismissed from the team shortly before pleading guilty to two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery in the spring of 2010. He grew up in Watkinsville, Ga., as a huge Georgia fan and his mother has worked in the Bulldogs’ football office for 10 years.
Now he finds himself as the starting quarterback for national championship-contender LSU. You need to know nothing more than the fact that the Tigers chose to bring him to Media Days despite Mettenberger having never started a game to know how they feel about him.
I’m writing a story that will appear in tomorrow’s print section — and online as well — but I wanted to go ahead and share the interview I had with Zach as a Q&A since it’s the most extensive opportunity I’ve had to talk to him since he left for Butler Community College in Kansas in the summer of 2010.
So here you go . . .
Q: Were you surprised that LSU asked you to represent the team here today?
A: “Not really. I’ve just been working hard to be a leader on the team and I think the coaches have seen that hard work in me. They believe I’m a well-spoken individual who’s capable of representing this team. It means a lot that they had that trust in me to let me come here and know that I’m going to represent the team well. I’m a little nervous being here, but if I can get through these butterflies then I’m going to be all right.”
Q: Does it feel like a practice run?
A: “It’s kind of a big first practice [laughs]. There’s a lot of people here. I’m just going to try to have fun today and learn from it.”
Q: How does is feel to now be the undisputed starting quarterback?
A: “I’m very comfortable. It’s definitely a lot different. I guess I won’t really know until we get on the field and start playing.”
Q: Have you spent much time contemplating the event that got you to this place?
A: “No, not really. My Mom working at Georgia and being at Georgia my whole life, I thought I’d be at Georgia now. But that’s not how God wanted it. That’s not the path he had for me. So I’ve dealt with the adversity and I think I’ve handled myself pretty well. So I’ve just got to keep working every day to better myself as a player and a person.”
Q: Is it your ultimate desire to face Georgia in the SEC Championship Game?
A: “Just getting to the SEC Championship Game my first year as a starter would mean a lot. It wouldn’t matter who we played. Regardless, it’s a goal I have this year. Hopefully we can get there.”
Q: What do you think it would be like facing Georgia?
A: “It’d be, not awkward, but it’d be kind of funny seeing all my old roommates and old buddies over on the other sideline and playing against them. It’s something I look forward to, but not any more than if we played South Carolina or Florida.”
Q: Do you have any Georgia gear anymore?
A: “No I don’t actually. I left it all at my house in Watkinsville.”
Q: Have you been back home much since leaving UGA?
A: “Maybe three or four times I’ve been back. I don’t get back a lot. I don’t have a lot of time to drive 10 hours and go see my parents. When they have a chance they come see me as much as I can.”
Q: When were you last in the Athens area?
A: “Actually I was there over spring break. I was in Gulf Shores (Ala.) and I just drove up to Athens one day and showed up at Mom’s work. It was a surprise for her. She was happy to see me and I was glad I did that.
Q: Did it feel strange being in enemy territory like that?
A: “It’s different, but it’s my hometown. It’s really not awkward or weird for me to go back. A lot of those coaches have known me since I was 10 years old.”
Q: Did you get a chance to visit with your old position coach, Mike Bobo?
A: “I saw him. We had a good talk. That’s a guy I’ve known since he was a G.A. for Georgia and my mom first got the job. It’s been great having him as almost a father-figure in my life. He gave me some good advice while I was back home.”
Q: Are you still good friends with any of the Georgia players?
A: “Me and Aaron are definitely good friends. We lived together for a year. I know we had the competition but, despite that, we’re very good friends. I roomed with Dallas Lee, Austin Long, Blake Sailors. Blake and I went to high school together and I grew up with him. So there are a lot of guys I’m really good friends with.”
Q: Are parents going to LSU games?
A: “Yeah, as many as they can make. I can’t wait to see them. Hopefully they can make them all.”
Q: Doesn’t your mom go to all the Georgia games?
A: “She hasn’t been to a Georgia game since I left.”
Q: Is there something behind that?
A: “No, she supports everybody on that team because my buddies are all like sons to her. But because I’m not playing there’s really no point for her to go. She’d rather stay home and watch it on TV.
Q: How has being the starting quarterback changed you?
A: “I’m just trying to everyday develop my leadership ability. This team doesn’t have a lot of leaders right now, so we need some guys to step into that role. I’ve been working hard every day trying to get the guys to rally around me to be the offensive leader. We’re just trying to make the offense better and hopefully we can go out there this year and execute.”
Q: Are you feeling any pressure about the position you’re in?
A: “Not really. I was just telling somebody, I’d rather be in The Swamp right now playing a night game than talking to all you guys. I’ve never really gotten nervous before a football game. I don’t know what it is about me but that’s the way it’s been since peewee and high school is over. I really haven’t gotten nervous.”
Q: Word is you guys are going to be airing it out behind your big arm this season. That true?
A: “I’m definitely excited. As long as I can get the ball in the hands of the playmakers on our team, my job is easy. If we have to run the ball 100 times I’m will to do that. I’m here to win ballgames, not to promote myself as a quarterback, just to be a winner for LSU.”
Q: Are your parents still big Georgia fans?
A: “Both of my parents are more LSU fans now than Georgia fans now. That’s just because they love me and support me so much.”
FULL AJC COVERAGE FROM DAY 2 OF SEC MEDIA DAYS:
FULL AJC COVERAGE FROM DAY 1 OF SEC MEDIA DAYS: