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In Focus: Long Time Coming



2003 National Champions Blazed Path to Glory

As Tiger fans across the world watched the clock tick down on the night of January 4, 2004, it marked the end of a long journey that had seen many ups and downs. It had been 45 years between LSU football national championships, and many never knew if they’d ever see the day that the Tigers would be at the top of college football.

While the football program saw many successful seasons, there was still the want for so much more. Fans knew there was something special in Baton Rouge, but it would take the right team to create a consistent winner. The 2003 team changed a culture and their national championship is a significant factor in the string of success the Tigers have had in the last 10 years.

Since 2003, LSU has become one of the nation’s most successful programs. The Tigers rank second in total wins with 110. During that time, LSU has won three Southeastern Conference Championships, appeared in three national championship games and won another national championship. The Tigers have also had 61 players drafted into the NFL, which ranks in the Top 5 among college football programs in the last decade.

When quarterback Matt Mauck began his career at LSU, he never imagined it would lead to a national championship. The success of the 2003 team shows that LSU has what it takes to be successful year-in and year-out.

“I’m most proud that we set things up and that LSU has been able to sustain success,” Mauck said recently. “I’m really proud to see LSU continue to do well. We should be in the national spotlight and title hunt every year.”

The change was not something made overnight. In offensive lineman Rodney Reed’s 1999 redshirt freshman season, the Tigers went 3-8. Over the next four years, a change in the attitude of the program was a contributor to the success on the field.

“In my first year we went 3-8, and then my senior year, we won the national championship,” Reed said. “I think it’s an example of the transformation of this program. In that last year, we didn’t make tangible goals. We tried to achieve things that would make us better teammates and people. Through a lot of hard work and good chemistry, we were able to win a national championship.”

Prior to the 2003 season, LSU saw success but never consistently reached the top. A turning point came against No. 7 Georgia in the fourth game of the ’03 season at Tiger Stadium; a game where many analysts didn’t believe the Tigers would have a fighting chance. After the thrilling 17-10 victory, Reed knew there was something special about the team. It would take a whole season, though, to convince the nation that LSU was here to stay.

“We go on that last drive with a rollout pass and Matt (Mauck) throws the ball and Skyler (Green) catches it for a touchdown,” Reed said. “It was the point in time that we all realized we were pretty good. No one really believed in us up to that point, and I think that is when we started turning heads.”

The Tigers went on to the SEC Championship Game where they would face Georgia for a second time. Again, writers and analysts never thought LSU would leave the Georgia Dome with a win. Running back Justin Vincent, the game’s MVP, was ready to prove everyone wrong.

“No one really believed in us at the time,” Vincent said. “We had a great resumé up to that point, but we knew we had to dominate Georgia to get any recognition.”

In the second meeting with the Bulldogs, LSU ran off to a 34-13 win. The Tigers punched their ticket to the BCS title game in their own state and their home away from home, the Louisiana Superdome. It was the final test for LSU to see if they were true contenders against No. 1 Oklahoma. Fans flooded the city of New Orleans days before and let the players know how grateful they were for the success of the Tigers.

“It was neat to hear stories about how ‘I was nine years old the last time this happened,’” Reed said. “Now these men and women have gray hair. That always felt good that we put in the hard work to reward the fans. It was an amazing experience to bring pride and accomplishment to the university. We hoped to start a legacy there.”

The 45 years of anticipation and hope were finally met with a 21-14 win over the Sooners. The long wait was finally over, and the appreciation for the team was unmatched.

Ten years later, the 2003 national championship team is being remembered for their accomplishments on the field and the way they turned around a football program to its rightful spot in the national spotlight.

“People always say thank you for what you did, and I want to say thank you to LSU and especially the fans that had to endure some rough years,” Mauck said. “It was amazing to play in Baton Rouge. My decision to come to LSU is probably one of the greatest things I’ve ever done. While I may have done so much for them, they did even more for me.”

The 2003 team brought back LSU football from its darkest of days. It re-energized a program that has continued on a successful path. On that January 4th night, fans young and old were finally able to witness something that was such a long time coming. Fans always dreamed of this day, but as cheers of “L-S-U, L-S-U, L-S-U” rained from the Louisiana Superdome, it was clear that the Tigers were here to stay.

“I was never so moved as I was on Sunday night, watching what we saw” former LSU center John Ed Bradley wrote in the edition of Sports Illustrated that was published following the BCS title game. “After it was over and I’d gone to bed, I couldn’t stop thinking about all those that loved the Tigers but who were no longer here to celebrate their victory. I whispered their names into the dark, ticking them off one by one. You must forgive me for feeling so much. It was such a long time coming, I can’t stop wishing everyone was here.”


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Life of the Team

By: Brandon Berrio LSU

“The Quarterback is the Life of the Team”

Zach Mettenberger Displays Talent, Toughness as Tigers’ QB

As Zach Mettenberger takes the field on Saturdays this fall, the pressure and expectations will not be overwhelming. The veteran out of Watkinsville, Ga. knows expectations set by his coaches and teammates. He’s reached this level of comfort by past experiences. These past experiences help the fifth-year senior signal caller to lead his team with dedication and humor.

Learning from past mistakes has led to a comeback at one of the premier schools in the SEC. When other student-athletes have faltered after making mistakes, Mettenberger has taken adversity head on. Learning from missteps is what has made him into the person and quarterback he is today.

“There was a moment in time where I didn’t know if I was going to be able to make a comeback,” Mettenberger said. “Fortunately things worked out the way they did, and I was able to make it back to a big-time SEC program.”

When he was at his lowest point, Mettenberger’s mom, Tammy, was by her son through everything. Mettenberger transferred to Butler Community College in Kansas, where he stopped to find himself.

“I think my mom is just a fan of me more than anything no matter what school I go to. We are just alike, and she has been the person to get me through all of the tough things in my life,” he said. “She is the most influential person in my life and my rock.  I really play this game for her.”

After finding his home at LSU, Mettenberger finally made his debut last year, leading the Tigers to a 10-3 season. Throwing for 2,609 passing yards, Mettenberger holds the fifth-highest single-season total in school history between national championship-winning quarterbacks Matt Mauck and Matt Flynn.

While Flynn and Mettenberger do not have much in common in their style of play, the attitude and carefree nature is something the two quarterbacks share.

“This year, we are really similar to the team in 2007,”Mettenberger said. “People compare me to Matt Flynn because he is a guy who really likes to goof around and have a good time but still takes it seriously.”

This fun attitude has been shown through the clothes Mettenberger wears and the famous mustache, but it’s just the personality that will never go away. His funny antics keep his teammates laughing and never knowing what to expect.

“There is a lot of pressure on this program and our team,” Mettenberger said. “You don’t want to be all work and no play. I try to make it fun to come in our building and goof off a bit. At the same time I take it serious and focus on the goals that we have set as a team. We’ve all grown up and are mature enough to know that line of being serious and practice instead of goofing around. We definitely keep it light and fresh.”

This fresh and fun atmosphere is where Mettenberger and his teammates create their bonds and chemistry. Junior wide receiver Jarvis Landry likes the fun atmosphere that Mettenberger creates around the building.

“He’s funny. Zach is Zach. He’s one of those guys that you want to be around on the field, but also off the field. He’s funny; he’s laid back. We have a lot of things in common,” Landry said. “The quarterback is usually the life of the team. He’s the life of everything, and that’s just how Zach is.”

LSU At the Game Program
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While having fun with his teammates and a fresh attitude is great for the program, Mettenberger knows that 100 percent dedication and effort is needed to reach his ultimate goals of a national championship and success in the NFL. In just six months as LSU’s offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron has served as a great mentor and teacher.

“He’s made all of the quarterbacks think like an NFL quarterback. He’s a guy who has had success at that level. He has me preparing like a professional with everything I do,” Mettenberger said. “Every practice is treated like the national championship, and every workout is like it’s my last. That’s something I’ve really taken to heart and just being my fifth year you want to learn everything you can and take nothing for granted.”

While the teaching may be different, there is no other way of learning than game experience. Going into his second season as a starter, Mettenberger uses last year’s obstacles as a way to improve and learn.

“Stepping onto the field now is completely different. I know what to expect this year. I always had an idea of what to expect but until you are thrown into the fire you have no idea how tough it is to be a starting quarterback in the SEC,” he said. “Dealing with the ups and downs during the season is tough. I play this game because I love it though, and I feel like I’m more prepared now because I do have a year under my belt.”

LSU coach Les Miles has seen the improvement in Mettenberger going into his senior season. His development into a leader and a great teammate is the biggest change.

“He is trying to give the coaches exactly what they need. He is really answering that call. I like how Zach is responding to leadership and the leadership role he plays,” Miles said. “Zach is taking it seriously and I enjoy his approach.”

As Mettenberger goes into his final season at LSU, it’s the unexpected road and being at the lowest of lows that has made him into the man he is four years later. While he never thought he would call Baton Rouge home, his passion and toughness is why he is a perfect fit for LSU.

“That’s what I’ll take away from LSU in years to come. It’s the lifestyle we live here at LSU. You have to be a tough guy to play here, and we demand toughness from everyone who steps on that field,” Mettenberger said. “We fight to be the best in the country and will never give up. This program has given me a second chance, and I’m grateful for it. As my life continues after football, there will be a lot of tough things. This place has helped me keep my head up and fight through no matter what happens.”

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