It seems that every NFL Draft yields multiple success stories of young men who have travelled their own respective star-crossed paths to the cusp of accomplishing their life-long dreams. Overcoming a wide-ranging array of odds dating back to their childhood, these future professionals are often made to re-live those experiences in detail. For most, the conquered hurdles help shape the individual, and set them up to take on the world as the light glistens at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Those challenges often stem from mistakes made, but set in place an opportunity to learn valuable lessons.
LSU Quarterback Zach Mettenberger falls somewhere in that category. The son of hard-working parents, Mettenberger comes from a modest, dilligent background. A Georgia boy at heart with Football ingrained in his soul. Once a self-proclaimed "short, fat kid" who grew up a stone's throw from the shadows of Sanford Stadium in Athens, Mettenberger was seemingly on the fast track to living out the dreams he harbored from a very young age.
Zach Mettenberger in high school.
His father, Bernie, is a carpenter. Young Zach once talked about how he watched his father work hard, driving nails into wood, and pondering if there was an easier way to make a living. His mother, Tammy, has been working in the University of Georgia's Football offices since Zach was 8 years old. As he grew older, taller, stronger, and the right appendage of his upper body prospered into a howitzer-type weapon, Mettenberger realized that Athens was where he wanted to be and where he wanted to play.
His decision to verbally commit to Georgia as a high school junior did not surprise anyone. Mettenberger had blossomed from "short, fat kid" into "tall, rocket armed" in no time. Having gone from offensive lineman to 3rd string Quarterback to starter for his high school team in the Georgia town of Watkinsville, Mettenberger had his future in front of him. All he had to do was continue to work hard, develop, keep his head down, take care of business on and off the field. However, for 18 and 19 year olds, off the field can often-times take a back seat to anything and everything.
Entering the 2009 season at Georgia, Mettenberger took a redshirt year alongside fellow freshman and 2014 draft prospect Aaron Murray. The two young signal-callers competed like heck, day in and day out, learning behind Joe Cox and Logan Gray. The 2010 season would be their time, and until then, every day was about challenging one another and improving in all aspects of the art of Quarterbacking in Mark Richt's pro-style system. Zach Mettenberger (left) and Aaron Murray at Georgia.
The two were seemingly neck-and-neck in the competition heading towards the end of spring 2010. Some will say Mettenberger had a slight edge given his incredible arm strength. However, everything soon fell apart after an off-field incident that resulted in Mettenberger's dismissal from the university.
That incident involved a female student at a night club, leaving Mettenberger off the team and at a crossroads. The dreams he had harbored from a young age now lay in tatters. Where would he go next? Who would want him? To his credit, Mettenberger owned up to his mistake and offered a sincere apology to the young woman, her family, his family, Georgia, and coach Mark Richt. For Zach, his next stop would turn out to be the best thing that could have happened to him...a journey to rural Kansas.
2010- Butler Community College
If Toto felt like a fish out of water in Oz, Zach Mettenberger must have felt the same about Kansas. He recounts memories of practicing in the vicinity of cow pastures and oil fields in the town of El Dorado. But this new scenery was just what this southern boy needed.
Mettenberger got back to doing what he did best, throwing the Football. In his one year at Butler, he led the Grizzlies to the JUCO national title game, throwing for 2,678 yards and 32 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions along the way. Off the field, the only distractions he faced came from countless high-major NCAA programs offering him scholarships and a road back to the highest level of College Football.
The last time Mettenberger played the recruiting game, he knew where he wanted to be. This time was different. Where would his best fit be? What conference should he play in? Whose offense would he like to operate? How close to home? One situation in particular caught his eye, and it could be said that both sides needed each other in the worst way.
Zach Mettenberger ultimately landed at LSU. The Tigers were desperate for help in the passing game. In need of a strong arm and ability to make the most out of its under-utilized but star-studded receiving corps, the Bayou Bengals gave Mettenberger the 2nd chance he needed, and he gave them the attributes they craved.
However, his first year in Baton Rouge was largely spent as an understudy. He watched as Jarrett Lee and eventually Jordan Jefferson Quarterbacked the Tigers to one of the best regular seasons in College Football History. He got some mop-up duty here and there, and while it may have been frustrating not to see the field straight away, he knew his time was right around the corner.
Mettenberger was the undisputed starter for the 2012 season, with two years of eligibility remaining. His only real competition came from Stephen Rivers, the younger brother of Philip Rivers, and Penn State transfer Rob Bolden. While he flashed signs of his true talent, particularly his extraordinary arm strength and propensity to toss up a beautiful deep ball, Mettenberger and the LSU offense had an up-and-down season by and large, though they began to click in the month of November. Zach Mettenberger
Mettenberger's best game came against the top-ranked Crimson Tide of Alabama. The defending champs were picked apart through the air as Mettenberger zipped balls around the field to his receivers, and the LSU offense looked like a unit finally capable of complementing its stout defense. The tide came back and won the game, but the wheels were in motion for the Zach Attack to take the next step, especially with help on the way in the form of a new offensive mind.
2013-Enter Cam Cameron
Les Miles and his Tigers were the beneficiaries of Cam Cameron's somewhat surprising firing from the Baltimore Ravens late in the 2012 NFL season. Though Cameron was linked with other coordinator jobs in the pros, he ultimately decided to join his long-time friend, Miles, in Baton Rouge, returning to the college game for the first time since his stint as Head Coach at Indiana in the late 1990s.
Cameron's impact on the offense and Mettenberger, in particular, was profound. LSU would go on to shatter several school records and Mettenberger and his top two receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry emerged as one of the more prolific pass/catch combinations in the country. Once known as a strictly ground and pound, win with defense-style approach, the Tigers were now an offensive machine. 3rd and long became a bodily function. Crisp, precise, high-percentage throws with an ever-strong run game to boot.
Zach Mettenberger looks to pass during a 2013 game at LSU.
Mettenberger finished his senior campaign with 3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns and 8 picks. He completed over 64% of his passes, and at long last, looked the part of the tall, strong armed future NFL gunslinger. He rolled into his old stomping grounds of Athens, Ga in September for an early season top-ten showdown with Georgia. He was hardly rattled, throwing for a career-high 327 yards and 3 touchdowns against his former team. LSU lost narrowly, but Mettenberger had officially arrived on the scene as a senior, and set the stage for the rest of the season for the once beleagured LSU offense.
Unfortunately, it was his last appearance in an LSU uniform that would provide yet another difficult obstacle for Mettenberger, as he suffered a torn ACL and MCL late in the November win over Arkansas.
Another challenge, another opportunity to show his true mettle. Mettenberger had surgery on January 2, the day after he watched his teammates defeat Iowa in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day. Just a few weeks later, he was at the scouting combine in Indianapolis to have his measurements taken. A few weeks after that, at his LSU pro day, Mettenberger was dropping back, making throws, being put through his paces at a high level in front of scouts and hardly looked like a young man just over 3 months removed from major reconstructive knee surgery.
Zach Mettenberger (center) developed into a leader as his career at LSU progressed.
Once again, the kid from Georgia found a way to make the most out of unfavorable conditions. Mettenberger has grown up a lot in the last 5 years. He has learned from his mistakes and taken those lessons and applied them to further challenges that life can present at any given moment unannounced. He prospered as a leader, both on and off the field, coming a long way from his days as an 18 year old mop-headed kid in a bar.
Forgetting about the howitzer of an arm, or the 6'5 220+ frame for a moment, it is that type of mental toughness and development that must have struck the NFL personnel gurus that have gone over Mettenberger with a fine-toothed comb in recent weeks and months. The short, fat kid is now a tall, strong man both physically and mentally.
Zach Mettenberger's first dream may have shattered at his own discretion, but his ability to pick up the pieces and rebuild an exceptionally talented figure have poised him to accomplish an even bigger dream; NFL draft pick and future starting Quarterback.
Measuring out at 6'5 224 with 9 3/4" hands, Mettenberger's arm strength is the first attribute that jumps out at you. He has the size to see over the line and down the field, and the ability to make every throw. Playing for Cam Cameron in a pro-style system aided his progression and development, so the learning curve of pro-style passing cocnepts and route trees will not be as big a hurdle to him as a prospect from a spread or option style system. Developed into a team leader, and while not exactly fleet-footed, he possesses good pocket awareness and knows how to use his feet to evade rushers, stepping up into his throws down the field. (Think of a young Drew Bledsoe)
His lack of evasiveness can serve as a weakness, especially in a day where every NFL team is sending multiple super-freaks with a sole purpose of bringing down the passer. He can, at times, trust his arm too much, as was the case in an October meeting with Ole Miss where he tossed multiple first half picks while trying to force the ball into downfield coverage. Locked on to his top two threats, Beckham and Landry at will, and will need to show better field awareness, involving his Tight Ends and looking for the safe throws when the big play is not there. Teams may still have questions about his recent injury and his past off-field issue.
He projects as a day 2 pick, and could be a valuable grab if still available in the middle of the 2nd round.
Zach Mettenberger is the latest prospect who has turned what was once an ugly story into a beautiful tale. The kid from Georgia has shown that he is a man on a mission. That mission is coming to an NFL city near you. Bad decisions and even worse injuries have tried to shake him, but Mettenberger has yet to be stirred. He is a winner, a talent, and still eager to get better. This young man has worked his way back into position to where he can see that light gleaming from that tunnel, and his dreams are once again in front of him.