Zach Mettenberger is looking forward to the day when people begin to judge him on what he's doing instead of what he's done.
After a tumultuous — and brief — stint with Georgia and a year in junior college to repair his image, Mettenberger will take the field as LSU's starting quarterback against North Texas on Saturday.
And it will be a relief.
"Without a doubt it's a chance to start over," Mettenberger told Yahoo! Sports. "I've got to take advantage of this and win a couple ballgames so people can finally stop talking about my past and more about my present and future."
Mettenberger signed with Georgia in 2009 out of Oconee County High in Watkinsville, Ga., and was in a hotly contested starting quarterback race with Aaron Murray and Logan Gray (who ended up transferring to Colorado). But in March of 2010, Mettenberger was arrested outside of a local bar after allegedly grabbing the breasts and buttocks of a woman, and also was charged with underage consumption and possession of alcohol, possessing fake identification and disorderly conduct-obstruction. He ultimately pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery, the alcohol-related charges were dropped, and he was sentenced to two concurrent, 12-month probationary periods under the state of Georgia's first-offender act. He also was ordered to pay $2,000 in fines and 40 hours of community service.
Mettenberger said it was his lowest point and out of character.
"It definitely wasn't the way I was raised," Mettenberger said of the incident. "I think going through all that was quite embarrassing. I've definitely matured a lot since then and I keep on maturing from here on out."
Coach Mark Richt dismissed Mettenberger from the team in April and Mettenberger thought his football career was over before it even got started.
"Sometimes when I was really down I would wonder if I would play football after the whole incident," Mettenberger told Yahoo! Sports.
Mettenberger found himself at Butler Community College in Kansas with the opportunity for a second chance and he made the most of it. He led Butler to an 11-1 record and a place in the JUCO national championship game. He threw for 2,678 yards and 32 touchdowns and just four interceptions, which caught the eye of several FBS coaches including LSU coach Les Miles, who had been keeping a watchful eye on Mettenberger from the time he was dismissed.
"It was tough, but as I kept going through JUCO and started getting some attention and started realizing that I had a talent that coaches wanted," Mettenberger said. "It definitely made some coaches think about the baggage that I had, but I shared with coach Miles that I was a changed guy and he took a chance on me. And I'm grateful to him for that.
"I think once coaches sat down and talked to me, they got a better grasp of who I was and not what they'd hear from other people."
Mettenberger joined LSU last year and while many clamored for him to start, Miles kept him in the background, away from reporters and allowed him to get his mind back on SEC football. Mettenberger did appear in five games and completed 8-of-11 passes for 92 yards and a score, but despite opinions from outsiders, Mettenberger said he never thought he should be starting ahead of Jordan Jefferson or Jarrett Lee. Even when the Tigers struggled against Alabama in the national title game, Mettenberger knew his time would eventually come.
"I got to sit back and watch two guys lead a team to a 13-1 record," Mettenberger said. "I had a really good time and I learned a lot last year.
"It's tough to say that if I would have played we would have done better. We had two very capable guys lead us to a 13-0 start and we're not just gonna pull those two guys for a first-year guy when they keep winning. So, it's hard to say that things would have changed had I played last year."
But LSU will get a do-over of sorts this year as the Tigers find themselves at the top of the national rankings and once again one of the favorites to win it all. But Mettenberger knows this season is about a lot more than just winning ballgames, it's about redemption and reclaiming the person he was when he was challenging for the starting role at Georgia.
He knows his past mistakes might never be forgotten — or even forgiven — but he's hoping to show everyone that one incident doesn't define who he is.
"There's a little bit of pressure to show I'm a different person, but not too bad though," Mettenberger said. "I just believe that time heals all wounds. People close to me know that I've changed and if I keep progressing like I am and just maturing then everybody will see that.
"Without a doubt it helped me become a better person. You go through things and you learn from them. Everybody goes through things and they're all different. As long as you can learn from them, you can become a better person and I definitely believe that I am."
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