Mustached Metheny wants to improve on first year at QB at South Alabama
WINCHESTER — By showing up with a Fu Manchu mustache at the University of South Alabama’s fan day on Sunday, senior Ross Metheny created some buzz with Jaguars supporters.
According to Jaguars head Joey Jones, those same fans will do a lot more than buzz when they see the former Sherando High School standout quarterback take the field this year.
“It’s night and day [compared to last year],” said Jones in a phone interview. “When Ross got here last August, he was still learning the offense and just getting to know his teammates. I thought he played well last year, but there were some inexperience factors that came up during the season.
“But now he’s a lot better quarterback, and a lot of that is due to the work he did in the offseason. He’s throwing the ball better, running better, he’s become even more of a leader. He wants to be one of the best quarterbacks [in the Sun Belt Conference], and I think he can do that.”
A second-year starter, Metheny — a 2009 Sherando graduate who transferred to South Alabama from the University of Virginia for the 2012 season — begins his final collegiate season when South Alabama hosts Southern Utah at 7:30 p.m today.
Metheny is looking to lift a Jaguars team that went 2-11 overall and 1-7 in the Sun Belt last year. The 2012 season was also something of a debut for the Jaguars, because it was the first time they played a full Football Bowl Subdivision schedule. South Alabama did not start its football program since 2009.
Though he played in all 13 games a year ago, Metheny did not open the season as the starter in South Alabama’s quarterback rotation. Metheny played the first three games in relief of C.J. Bennett, who started 10 games in 2011, before ascending to the top spot for the Jaguars’ fourth and fifth games.
Metheny was then handed the exclusive rights to the quarterback spot in South Alabama’s sixth game on Oct. 13 to Arkansas State. The Jaguars lost 36-29, but Metheny backed up Jones’ faith by completing 24 of 38 passes for 241 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
Over South Alabama’s final eight games, the Jaguars averaged 21.6 points compared to 13.4 in their first five games. Metheny ended the year completing 189 of 345 passes (54.8 percent) for 2,148 yards, 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Naturally, Metheny would have liked more wins, but he knew when he transferred that it was going to be a tough adjustment.
“It was a learning process for us,” Metheny said. “Personally, I did what I came out here to do. Play, and affect the program in a positive way.”
A week after the Arkansas State game, Metheny helped the Jaguar program take a big step in its growth by rallying South Alabama from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit against Florida Atlantic.
Metheny threw a 16-yard touchdown pass with only 1:09 remaining to complete a nine-play, 85-yard drive. South Alabama went on to win 37-34 in double overtime. That was South Alabama’s first win against an FBS opponent in school history — the Jaguars’ other win last year was against Nicholls State, a Football Championship Subdivision team.
“[Florida Atlantic] was a cool experience, because that’s something that’s going to go down in history,” Metheny said. “That’s something I’ll always be proud of.”
As far as the offseason, Metheny said he didn’t do anything radical — he just worked at refining his skills and studied film.
But as Jones said, the work did pay off. For the second straight year, Metheny was involved in a preseason quarterback competition, this time with junior Brandon Bridge, a transfer from Alcorn State. Metheny was named the starter by Jones last week, though Bridge will also get to play.
Naturally, every athlete wants to play as much as possible, But the 6-foot-3 205-pound Metheny isn’t looking at it as a setback that the 6-5, 220 Bridge — who Jones said is a strong athlete who can run — will play in the Jaguars’ spread offense.
“A lot of schools use two quarterbacks,” Metheny said. “It allows you to push yourself to get better. [Bridge] made me raise my level of play, and vice versa.
“If we were in a pro-style offense, it might be a problem having a two-quarterback system. But with the type of offense we run, using two quarterbacks is nothing unusual. We can keep teams off balance.”
Jones said both players are more than capable of running the offense, and he said he plans on using each one for a certain percentage of plays for the foreseeable future — he’s not going to pull someone if they make one bad play. Jones said in the second half of games, he might adjust play percentages for each quarterback based on feel.
No matter who’s taking the snaps, both quarterbacks will have plenty to work with. On a team that returns 16 starters, South Alabama returns its top five receptions leaders from last year, led by Jereme Jones (45 catches for 513 yards and seven touchdowns). The other four combined for 122 catches and 1,350 yards. South Alabama will also start a transfer, Shavarez Smith, at wide receiver this year.
Junior college transfers in Jay Jones and Cris Dinham will lead the rushing attack.
“We’ve added depth at the skill positions, which is something we didn’t have last year,” Metheny said. “Everyone’s more comfortable on offense, and we’re more cohesive.”
Metheny said the team as a whole should benefit significantly from last year’s experience as it enters yet another new phase. This is the first year that South Alabama is eligible for the Sun Belt title and a bowl berth.
“We learned how to practice and play like a Division I program last year, and now the expectations have been raised,” Metheny said.
“He wants to prove that South Alabama has arrived as a Division I program, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do,” Jones said.
Now matter what South Alabama accomplishes on the field this year, it may be difficult for the team to match the magnificence of Metheny’s mustache.
Metheny said he borrowed the idea to grow unique facial for fan day from his old roommates at the University of Virginia.
“It was just for kicks and giggles,” Metheny said. “But then some of my teammates took a poll of the fans, and they overwhelmingly voted that I should keep it. I’m not sure if it’s going to last past [tonight] though. I’ll probably have a razor in the locker room.”
Even if it doesn’t last, Metheny’s done plenty of other things to please fans and members of the community over the years, which dates back to his days at Virginia.
Metheny is one of 150 people nominated for the 2013 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. College football players are recognized for this team for their work in their respective communities. Metheny has participated in numerous projects working with children, and he’s also coached youth basketball and helped children through a reading program. The final team of 22 players will be announced in September.
Metheny received a degree in sociology in three years at Virginia, is working toward a master’s degree in educational leadership, and is in the process of finalizing an internship in Notre Dame’s athletic department for the spring, because Metheny hopes to go into college athletic administration.
Before he does that though, he wants to give South Alabama something to remember.
“The support here has been great,” Metheny said. “Everyone on campus, the faculty, students, the fans. We want to show how much we appreciate them by putting everything we have on the field this year.”
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at email@example.comFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1