- Gary Laney, Reporter, GeauxTigerNation
For Zach Mettenberger, finishing second is something he's grown accustomed to.
Frankly, he's tired of it.
LSU's quarterback has been on teams that lost in national championship games for two straight years. In January, he watched from the sidelines as Alabama beat his Tigers 21-0 in the BCS national championship game. A season earlier, he was the starting quarterback at Butler Community College when they were defeated by Navarro Junior College, 13-12 for the 2010 National Junior College Athletic Association championship.
Both the LSU and Butler teams were undefeated and top-ranked heading into their respective championship games.
"It was eerily similar," Mettenberger said Tuesday at LSU's media day. "In juco, we had the No. 1 defense in the country, over here we had the No. 1 defense. To be undefeated throughout the season and to be favored in the national championship game and to lose it has definitely left a bitter taste in my mouth the last two years.
"Hopefully, we can change that this year."
The biggest difference between the two seasons was his role. At Butler, he was the offensive star who threw for 2,678 yards and 32 touchdowns. At LSU, he was the third string quarterback playing behind two seniors.
This season, he's a starter again and LSU is a preseason No. 1. Question is, can Mettenberger and the Tigers finish the deal this time?
Finding the specialists: When coaches scout prospects, usually the route to go is to a high school coach and by evaluating high school game film.
For LSU special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughy, it's different. LSU signed two specialists in the 2012 recruiting class. Both were recruited as much for their work with position-specific gurus than their high school resumes.
Long snapper Reid Ferguson, who is set to start as a true freshman, played high school ball in Buford, Ga. But it's the work Ferguson did with deep-snap guru Chris Rubio that caught McGaughy's attention.
"Chris Rubio is one of the best long-snapping coaches in the business," McGaughey said. "He helps run our kicking camp during the summer. He's gone through his camps for the last four years and Chris has done a great job with him. When I got him, he was ready-made. Just add water and stir."
Ferguson started long snapping in eighth grade. When, as a sophomore, he beat out a pretty good senior to become his high school team's deep snapper, he knew he might have a future at the position.
"My coaches, my dad and I started talking about maybe this is something I could do in the future," he said.
A few years later, he's starting in the SEC.
A similar story can be told of true freshman punter Jamie Keehn, an Australian who attended Prokick Australia, a school for punting run by Nathan Chapman, an Australian who briefly punted in the NFL.
McGaughey knew about Chapman from his time with the New York Giants. A pupil of Chapman's briefly punted for the Giants and a relationship was born. When McGaughey arrived at LSU, he knew who to call. LSU already had an Australian punter in Wing (who came to Baton Rouge as an exchange student prior to coming to LSU) and McGaughey knew Wing was the type of player he wanted to keep in the program.
"I've always said in recruiting, if I was going to recruit a punter, I'm going to Australia," McGaughey said. "Those guys grow up, instead of throwing the football, they're kicking the football."
Technical coach: When new LSU wide receivers coach Adam Henry last coached receivers, it was at McNeese State, an FCS program a couple hours down the road from LSU. There, he became a stickler for fundamentals.
Henry, who also coached tight ends with the Oakland Raiders before coming to LSU, said it was because of the type of player McNeese recruited. The Cowboys could rarely beat larger schools in recruiting polished, talented prep receivers.
"Some of them were receivers, but most of the time we had quarterbacks and running backs that we converted to receiver," he recalled. "So for my teaching ability and my ability to teach the fundamentals of playing receiver, it really helped me because I was always having to train somebody to be a receiver who had never been a receiver."
That makes Russell Shepard a good fit to be a pupil of Henry's. Like many of his FCS receivers, Shepard is a prep quarterback still learning the basics of the position.
"He always had the ball in his hands," Henry said. "He's learning. I think he's going to have a great year. He's going to break out. He's going to manufacture some plays for us, have some big runs, but I think he'll learn a lot about receiving."
For Zach Mettenberger, finishing second is something he's grown accustomed to.Frankly, he's tired of it.LSU's quarterback has been on teams that lost in national championship games for two straight years.