Glenn Guilbeau / Gannett Louisiana
BATON ROUGE – Zach Mettenberger was on the water when the call finally came.
The former LSU quarterback was at his sanctuary – at his uncle Mark “Guffa” Quinlivan’s home on Guntersville Lake in Scottsboro, Ala. It has been Mettenberger’s refuge since a sexual battery arrest in Remerton, Ga., in 2010 got him kicked off the Georgia football team and exiled him to Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan.
During breaks from Butler and later from LSU, he stayed in Scottsboro instead of his home in Watkinsville, Ga., just minutes from Athens and the University of Georgia to get away from his past. His future is now in the NFL after the Tennessee Titans traded a seventh round pick to Washington to move up eight spots to get the second pick of the sixth round to take Mettenberger as the 178th overall selection.
“Yeah, it really was great news,” Uncle Guffa told Gannett Louisiana in a telephone interview Saturday afternoon. “When I saw he got the call, I was actually wiping tears out of my eyes. It’s a been a long few days. Zach had some of his buddies over here and his whole family. We were all hoping for an earlier call. When they finally picked him, he was out on the boat dock with his buddies. He was getting away from everything.”
ESPN and NFL Network trucks were at Quinlivan’s home on Friday night for the second and third rounds of the NFL Draft.
“They’re not here now,” Guffa said. “The draft is such a game. Zach’s agents were here Thursday Friday night. They didn’t know what was going on either.”
Mettenberger did not follow the draft after Thursday night.
“I’ve been out on the dock,” he said on a teleconference Saturday with Titans’ beat reporters. “I haven’t been watching. I’ve been waiting for that call.”
Mettenberger was projected to go in the second round for several weeks as he rapidly rehabilitated from a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee suffered in the Tigers’ regular season finale of 2013. He was very impressive in LSU’s Pro Day last month. He was rising.
Quarterback guru George Whitfield, Jr. said on ESPN Monday that the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Mettenberger had the strongest arm in the draft.
But on Tuesday, Fox Sports reported that Mettenberger’s drug test from February before the NFL Combine was flagged because his urine was diluted with water. Diluted urine samples are considered failed drug tests by the NFL. Mettenberger’s agent, Seth Katz, said Mettenberger did not drink a lot of water to disguise another substance. Instead, he was instructed by doctors to drink nearly a gallon of water a day to fight cramping in his left leg as he rehabilitated from surgery.
“That’s very accurate,” Mettenberger’s uncle said Saturday. “I keep a lot of water in my refrigerator, and when Zach has been here, I’d look in there and it’d be almost empty. He’s been drinking a lot of water since the surgery.”
Other news broke on Wednesday about a lower back condition Mettenberger has had since he was a kid called spondylolisthesis, but LSU trainer Jack Marucci said that his back was never a serious matter during the season.
“It would flare up on him during the summer sometimes,” Marucci told Gannett Saturday night. “But it wasn’t anything. He didn’t have any problems with it his senior year. Probably 30 percent of people have spondylo and don’t even know it. It was just unbelievable how he got barraged with all this at the end. Why does it all come out now?”
LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron suggested to reporters last week during a speaking engagement before the draft that other agents may have been trying to improve their quarterback’s stock. Nine quarterbacks were picked before Mettenberger.
“I’m pretty worked up over that,” Cameron said at the time. “It was either a selfish motivation from that person (at Fox Sports) individually, or it was a message sent by somebody who wanted to see their quarterback above him.”
Quinlivan said the combination of the diluted test, the back ailment and his recent knee injury contributed to the drop from the second round to the sixth.
“What came out this week I think really hurt him in the draft,” Guffa said. “All you have to do is look at the film to see how good he is. But all this that came out had something to do with it. I mean Ron Jaworksi (ESPN analyst) had him as the No. 2 quarterback last week. Then he wasn’t in his top five. It was the red flags.”
Mettenberger did not want to talk about what dropped him so low on Saturday during the teleconference.
“Well, that’s something I can’t worry about,” he said. “I have no control over why things happened the way they did. All I know is I have an opportunity to be a part of a great franchise, and I want to make the most of it. I’m ecstatic for the opportunity. I’m not going to worry about that.”
Asked specifically about what led to the diluted drug test, Mettenberger said, “No, I’d rather not talk about that. In my case, it was really a hard thing to deal with, but I’m just grateful to finally be drafted.”
Mettenberger said his surgically repaired knee was nearing 100 percent. Asked if he is ready to practice on his knee, he answered sharply in vintage form, “If rookie camp started in 20 minutes, I could practice with the team.”
Mettenberger may have dropped significantly, but he goes to a team with significant quarterback issues. Jake Locker, the eighth pick of the first round in 2011, has been a bit of a disappointment and did not have his fifth-year option picked up by the team for 2015. Charlie Whitehurst has been a career backup, and Tyler Wilson – a fourth round pick a year ago by Oakland – has not yet taken a snap in his career.
“I’m going to show up ready to work,” said Mettenberger, who was among the nation’s leaders in passing efficiency last season at 171.4 on 192-of-296 passing for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns with eight interceptions. “I’m going to come every day with a hard hat and a lunch pail. Whatever happens happens. I’m just going to work my tail off.”
Mettenberger has been down this road before. He had to prove himself beyond his past when he came to LSU.
“Absolutely, the jury is still out on me,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to prove everyone wrong and that I’m a great player and I’m a great person. More importantly, that I’m a great person. I want to show that to everyone.”
Uncle Guffa already knows it.
“I’ll just tell you he’s a really nice kid. He didn’t deserve this,” Quinlivan said. “When the Titans called him, it was great. When you go from possibly the early second round to maybe an undrafted free agent to getting the call. It’s a thrill. It’s such a great opportunity. I’m proud of him.”
LSU TOPS NATION IN DRAFTEES: LSU had more players selected in the 2014 NFL Draft than any other school in the nation with nine.
Four were picked in the fourth through seventh rounds on Saturday. Those were outside linebacker Lamin Barrow in the fifth round as the 156th overall pick to Denver, quarterback Zach Mettenberger in the sixth round as the 178th overall pick to Tennessee, tailback Alfred Blue in the sixth round as the 181st overall pick to Houston and wide receiver James Wright in the seventh round as the 239th overall pick to Cincinnati.
Wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. went in the first round as the 12th overall pick to the New York Giants on Thursday night. On Friday, defensive tackle Ego Ferguson went in the second round as the 51st overall pick to Chicago, tailback Jeremy Hill went in the second round as the 55th overall pick to Cincinnati, wide receiver Jarvis Landry went in the second round as the 63rd overall pick to Minnesota and guard Trai Turner went in the third round as the 92nd overall pick to Carolina.
Defensive tackle Anthony Johnson was not selected after being projected as a middle round pick. News broke early in the week that he failed a drug test before the NFL Combine in February. Safety Craig Loston, who played in the Senior Bowl, was also not drafted.
Alabama and Notre Dame were second behind LSU in draftees with eight apiece.