Football doesn’t last forever.
It can be a cruel game that leaves a senior aching helplessly on the turf. It can serve as a cold reminder that no man is invincible, and in doing so can transform one of the most flamboyant stars in the game into a soft-spoken, humble veteran. That’s where Zach Mettenberger stands today, or more fittingly, limps.
Saturday morning, Mettenberger hobbled into an indoor facility where he’s conducted countless interviews. This time he answered questions from one of the smallest gatherings he’s seen at an LSU media session.
Mett the Entertainer that greeted the media before the season (“Y’all say this every year. Am I just a fat piece of crap?” he asked in response to a weight question) was on vacation. Zach, the gutsy, never-say-die quarterback (who crawled, limped and refused to be helped off of the field against Alabama) met with us instead.
Mettenberger walked into the facility with a grey LSU jacket, dark headband and black brace covering his knee.
Before the brace became everyday apparel for him, Mettenberger was a gallant quarterback with guts as big as his arm. On one of the more memorable plays of the season, Mettenberger hung in the pocket and waited until the last millisecond to launch a pass toward Jarvis Landry. There he met his fate.
On one side of the field, Landry made one of the best catches of the football season, while the other side of the field saw Mettenberger in agony. Because of an ACL tear suffered against Arkansas, Mettenberger’s LSU football career is now over. His duties to the team remain unfulfilled though.
“Until my time is done here, I’m going to continue being the leader this team needs me to be,” Mettenberger said.
It starts in the film room and continues on the practice field. Mettenberger is taking Anthony Jennings under his wing and doing his best to prep the freshman quarterback for an Iowa defense that’s allowed only 18.8 points per game this season.
“I’m trying to help his transitions and make it as easy as possible for him,” Mettenberger said. “If there’s any way I can help by watching his practice or being in the film room with him, I’m going to do whatever it takes to get him ready to play.”
From player to coach, Mettenberger has a lot of talent to work with. He now knows how it feels to be offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
Instructing someone to make proper reads is easier than teaching them how to hum a spiral with the same velocity of an NFL-caliber arm. Luckily for Mettenberger, Cameron and LSU’s offense, both come easy for Jennings.
Offensive lineman Vadal Alexander said Jennings is getting better each outing at practice. He said Jennings is showing maturity with his calm nature, and Jennings knows what checks to make at the line and conducts himself like a seasoned veteran in the huddle.
“He basically can do the same thing Zach can do. He has a great arm, but obviously, he’s faster than Zach,” Alexander said.
Jennings is learning from one of the best, though. Mettenberger is the third LSU quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in a season. Like Mettenberger, Jennings is a natural at the position.
“He’s a pocket-passing guy,” Mettenberger said. “He works well in the pocket, and if he needs to take off he will. He’s not your typical dual-threat guy. He’s always looking to pass first, and he does that with great accuracy and great anticipation. He’s a really bright kid.”
Jennings will lead LSU against Iowa in the Outback Bowl, while Mettenberger preps himself for a microscope of scrutiny. When the NFL combine rolls around, Mettenberger will be recovering from surgery, so he plans on making his interviews with NFL scouts count.
If he conducts himself in the same manner that he did Saturday, he’ll be just fine.
Matured and humbled, Mettenberger is, was and will be thankful for every second spent under a football helmet.
“Football doesn’t last forever. I’m starting to learn that more and more,” Mettenberger said.
Jake Martin is a Featured Columnist of Bleacher Report and a contributor for The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from The Sun Herald.