By Brad Fauber
Ross Metheny is experiencing some mixed emotions as he and the rest of the University of South Alabama football team prepares for the 2013 college football season.
There is the excitement that comes with the beginning of a new season, of course, but there is also the knowledge that this season is Metheny's last as a collegiate quarterback.
"There's a lot of last firsts happening, which is both exciting and humbling," Metheny said in a phone interview recently. "We're just excited for this year. We're a much-improved team and I'm excited to still be in a leadership position here and give these guys all that I've got."
Metheny, a standout at Sherando High School who signed to play at the University of Virginia before transferring to South Alabama last year as a junior, led the Jaguars' offense last season after taking over the starting quarterback role several games into the season.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Stephens City native will reprise that role for South Alabama again this year as a senior, though Metheny had to earn that spot in fall camp.
Metheny began fall camp in tight competition with junior Brandon Bridge for the starting job, and Metheny said he was informed that he had earned the spot early last week, although Bridge will still see game action this season.
"I've been in competition ever since I left high school, and competition brings the best out of everybody and I think it was good for us," said Metheny, who passed for 2,148 yards, 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season. "I'm thankful. I just always focus on myself and control what I can control. It ended up working out."
With that first obstacle seemingly out of the way, Metheny can now train his sights on helping South Alabama turn things around from a 2-11 season a year ago.
South Alabama, whose football program was formed in 2009, recently completed its two-year transitional period required to become a full member of the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision and will compete at the NCAA's highest level this season. That means that the Jaguars, who are members of the Sun Belt Conference, are now eligible to compete for the conference championship and a bowl berth.
"It's time for us to take another step forward as a program, and this year could be a big year for us in taking that step," Metheny said. "We have high expectations, and we're a completely different team from last year. It's night and day."
South Alabama returns a wealth of experience from last year's team, and Metheny said the Jaguars are finally reaping the benefit of the program's first true senior class.
That's good news for Metheny, who should have lots of targets to throw to this season as the wide receiver position features plenty of depth.
Metheny's top five targets from last season all return this year, including receivers Jereme Jones (45 catches for 513 yards, seven touchdowns) and Bryant Lavender (41 catches, 378 yards). Junior tight end Wes Saxton, a preseason first team all-conference pick by Athlon Sports, also returns after catching 26 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns last season.
In addition to the returning receivers, South Alabama also features some new talent in transfers Shavarez Smith and Danny Woodson, the latter coming from national champion Alabama.
Metheny said he is excited about what the Jaguars' offense can accomplish this year, and if South Alabama's scrimmage on Aug. 17 is any indication, the Jaguars' spread offense could give opposing teams some trouble this season.
South Alabama's offense gained 470 total yards in the scrimmage, while Metheny completed 12 of 15 pass attempts for 125 yards. He also added a 19-yard touchdown run.
"We feel good where we're at. We're a year into the offense now, we're more comfortable, a more cohesive unit. We're playing faster," Metheny said. "We like where we're at right now ... but we understand there is a lot of work to be done."
While Metheny has put in plenty of work on the football field over the last few years, his work off the field has also gained him some recognition.
Metheny was recently named one of 151 nominees for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, an award that recognizes the contributions of college football players in their respective communities.
Since arriving at South Alabama last season, Metheny has coached a church league youth basketball team and has volunteered with the Jaguars' "Spread the Roar" reading program. Metheny also worked with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America while at U.Va., as well as Athletes Committed to Community and Education (ACE).
A final roster of 22 recipients for the Good Works Team will be unveiled in September.
"I'm very honored to be a part of that, and I think that is just who I am. I like helping people, it's something that I find joy in," said Metheny, who is working towards a Master's in educational leadership. "Anytime you can make somebody better, it puts a smile on my face. I'm very honored to be a part of it."
South Alabama opens the season on Thursday at home against Southern Utah. Metheny will have the opportunity to play close to home later this fall when the Jaguars play Navy in Annapolis, Md., on Nov. 16.