By Jeff Nations
It wasn't exactly a surprise when Ross Metheny answered his cell phone last month and heard the familiar voice of South Alabama head football coach Joey Jones.
Metheny, after all, had been Jones' star quarterback the previous season when the Jaguars took a huge step forward with a surprising 6-6 record. Metheny had led the Sun Belt Conference in total offense by passing for 2,622 yards and 15 touchdowns, and rushing for another 604 yards and 10 more TDs as he helped solidify the foundation for South Alabama's still-emerging program (2013 marked the school's first year in the Football Bowl Subdivision).
Metheny, a 2009 Sherando High School graduate who transferred from Virginia to South Alabama with two seasons of eligibility left, did more than anyone to fast-track the Jaguars to the upper echelon of the Sun Belt Conference. Last year, the Jags finished third in the conference with a 4-3 mark.
Metheny might have been expecting a quick pep talk from his former coach, a few friendly words of encouragement -- instead, he got a job offer.
At the time, Metheny was staying at home in Stephens City and putting out a few feelers for jobs. Coaching wasn't necessarily the plan then, but Jones' offer of a spot on South Alabama's coaching staff as a graduate assistant changed that.
"I was pretty honored by it," Metheny said during a phone interview. "Especially with the position opening so late -- typically, GA spots are hard to find."
Metheny had hoped for another call that never came. He wasn't picked in May's 2014 NFL Draft, but Metheny had reasonable hopes of landing a deal as an undrafted free agent or at least a tryout based on his solid senior season and a good showing at South Alabama's pro day.
"Nothing really materialized, and I was kind of hanging at home," Metheny said. "I applied for some entry level jobs and internships."
Metheny is taking entry-level work, of course -- as a graduate assistant for offense, he can look forward to hours upon hours of breaking down game film for the coaching staff. But Metheny, who will assist Jaguars offensive coordinator Robert Matthews, will also coach tight ends with an emphasis on the passing game and have a definite on-field presence. He'll be in constant contact with South Alabama's tight ends and quarterbacks, effectively playing a bit of role-reversal.
"It'll be good," Metheny said. "Now I'll be the one giving the advice and doing the coaching. I'll primarily focus o the passing game with those guys."
Metheny never discounted coaching football, but it wasn't his only choice. He graduated from Virginia in just three years with a degree in sociology, and headed south to Mobile, Ala., with hopes of getting a real shot a playing time with the Jaguars. That move was purely to play the game, but Metheny always had alternative plans if that didn't pan out.
"I was always kind of interested in coaching," Metheny said. "I knew if I wanted to coach, I wanted to do it at the college level. I was kind of on the fence as to whether I wanted to go into the administrative side of athletics or the coaching side of it."
With NFL camps underway and no offer in hand, Metheny knows his playing days are likely done. That's not to say he wouldn't be ready should a late opportunity arise, but Metheny is now focused on what he thinks could be his chosen career.
"I'm an active guy, I'm always going to stay ready and stay in shape," Metheny said. "Realistically, there comes a point when you have to move on. I don't have any regrets. I had a lot of fun playing college football, and I'm ready for a new chapter of my life."
That chapter started in July when Metheny arrived back in his old stomping grounds in Mobile, and since then it's been a hectic schedule to prepare for the upcoming season. South Alabama, picked third in the preseason Sun Belt football poll, will open its season on the road with a Sept. 6 game at Kent State, followed by the home opener on Sept. 13 against Mississippi State.
Metheny is already hard at work to help the Jaguars maintain the momentum he helped to build during two seasons as a player.
"I just kind of jumped right in," Metheny said. "It's been an easy transition for me. I know the offense, I know the coaches, I know the community."
Contact staff writer Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org