John Metchie III knew exactly what to do, as soon as he locked eyes with it.
It’s a weekday in Ghana, and Metchie is out walking in his neighborhood. Many of the homes have large gates, forbidding outsiders from intruding. Sitting at the base of the entrance is a dog, looking for someone to chase.
On this particular day, the dog’s target is John Metchie.
These aren’t house pets that become instant family members. They are guard dogs, preventing intruders from entering private properties.
“There are a lot of wild, stray dogs in Ghana,” Metchie said over the phone. “I would hate leaving the house because it would always involve sprinting to the car, sprinting away to avoid them as much as possible.”
The dog barked and Metchie took off. These encounters occurred often, with the dog chasing Metchie through the crevasses of his neighborhood.
There even were some close calls, he says years later. In these tense moments, Metchie developed his greatest athletic asset: speed.
On Monday night, Metchie will not be chased by dogs, but rather defenders, in college football’s national championship game in South Florida. His experiences outrunning animals as a kid prepared him for becoming a wide receiver with the Alabama Crimson Tide.
But how did someone, with the miles around the globe like Metchie, end up playing football at Alabama? Through his journey, Metchie embraced every lesson, every experience, every bond formed to become a complete football player on and off the field.
Football over hockey
Metchie’s story doesn’t start with catching balls in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in front of raucous fans at Bryant-Denny Stadium. It begins in Taiwan, the epicenter of food and culture in the Far East.
Born to a Taiwanese mother, Joyce, and a Nigerian father, John, Metchie experienced a cross section of international cultures, different from his Alabama teammates.
While he doesn’t remember living in Taiwan, Metchie went back to high school to experience his roots.
“It was a surreal experience,” Metchie said. “I had always been a part of that culture, but being there, meeting everyone from my mom’s side, it was pretty cool.”
Not long after his birth, the Metchie family moved to Ghana, where he spent the early years of his childhood. Transitioning from baby to toddler, Metchie learned to run, showing early signs of athletic ability.
When he was 6, the Metchies made their most formative move. They emigrated to Canada, hoping for better economic and educational opportunities for their three sons and daughter.
Brampton, Ontario, wasn’t just Metchie’s new home. It planted the seed of love and passion for football, which Metchie continues to embrace today.
The youngster credits his brother, Royce, for fueling his desire to play professional football one day. Sports became the heartbeat of the Metchie household, with mother Joyce enrolling her children into organized soccer and lacrosse.
For an immigrant family, sports provided an avenue for the Metchies to learn and grow as people.
Metchie said he doesn’t watch or play hockey, Canada’s national pastime. But football, with deep Canadian ties through the CFL, allowed Metchie to form deep relationships with people, which he maintains while at Alabama.
“The relationships I have with my brothers and all my close friends back in Brampton and back home mean everything to me,” Metchie said. “They are the reason why I am the way I am. They helped me with everything, and they continue to be there for me unconditionally. Those relationships definitely mean a lot to me.”
Metchie’s first experience with organized football came with the Brampton Bulldogs of the Brampton Minor Football Association. There, he got a taste of playing with a team and learning the fundamentals of football.
It provided Metchie a distraction from the challenging realities of living in Brampton. The Metchies didn’t have a lot of money and opportunities were scarce to play competitive sports.
For Metchie, living in Canada taught him how to conquer adversity.
“It doesn’t have many opportunities when it comes to sports, but it has a lot of kids who love sports. It taught us how to work hard and we need to make the opportunities for ourselves.”
‘He appreciates and understands how fleeting the game is’
John Root receives tons of emails daily.
As the head football coach at Saint James School in Hagerstown, Maryland, Root leads the efforts to bring players across North America to his program.
Metchie called Root and explained his desire to play at Saint James.
These calls were nothing new for Root. What happened next still amazes the football coach to this day.
“Two days later, I get a call from the school that John Metchie was there with his parents,” Root said. “Like all of the Canadian kids, John was incredibly gracious, kind and a nice kid.”
“It taught me to be comfortable being uncomfortable, and that helps a lot in the sport and in life. I’ve never really been in one place for an extremely long amount of time. I’ve moved around, so it’s always a new environment, which can be uncomfortable for a lot of people.” – John Metchie III
Root spoke to Tyler Grochot, a fellow Canadian from Ottawa, who knew Metchie. He told the head coach that Metchie was “a great football player.”
Metchie decided that Saint James School was the optimal choice. At 14, he left his family in Brampton, relocating to Hagerstown to pursue his football dream.
The constant movement to new places can have a negative impact on a young person. Not Metchie. He took comfort in new experiences, allowing him to ease into different environments.
“It taught me to be comfortable being uncomfortable, and that helps a lot in the sport and in life,” Metchie said. “I’ve never really been in one place for an extremely long amount of time. I’ve moved around, so it’s always a new environment, which can be uncomfortable for a lot of people.”
Root remembers Metchie’s humility while playing for the Saint James Saints. He wasn’t the flashiest or the loudest. But Metchie worked the hardest, setting a standard for the program in work ethic.
There was fear that Metchie’s career would be cut short. Early in his career at Saint James, an opponent tackled Metchie in the chest area. Pain persisted for days before Metchie went to see a doctor.
The pre-diagnosis was a heart condition, jeopardizing Metchie’s career and life.
“John kept positive but you could tell he was very, very down,” Root said.
After going to another specialist and undergoing some tests, Metchie found out he could still play football. His heart was subtly enlarged, which occurred as it adapted to intense athletic training.
This moment showed Metchie’s ability to conquer adversity, which translated to the football field with his mindset.
“John understands when you play, you never know when your last play is going to be,” Root said. “That’s why John lives every moment; he appreciates and understands how fleeting the game is.”
His focus is on getting better
When Metchie went on his visit to Alabama, he wasn’t interested in the extracurricular activities that go on during those trips.
He wanted to impress players and coaching staff alike.
Metchie roomed with Jerry Jeudy, the then-future NFL wide receiver for the Denver Broncos. On a Saturday night, when the Alabama campus comes alive with parties and nightlife, Metchie and Jeudy went to the Crimson Tide workout facility, working out were future Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and current Crimson Tide wide receiver Jaylen Waddle.
Metchie stayed and watched the two offensive stars, learning the hard work necessary to succeed in the Crimson Tide’s successful program.
“That was a moment where I wanted to come here instead of any other school because I’d be around like-minded people.”
Metchie came back to the Saint James campus, informing Root of his decision to commit to the Crimson Tide. The Alabama coaches recommended Metchie do an extra year of prep football before going to the university.
After graduating from high school, Metchie attended The Peddie School in Hightstown, New Jersey, playing under head coach Chris Malleo. Not only did Metchie achieve the improvement as a receiver, but he grew as a leader, setting an example for the younger players in the program.
“John has an incredible culture to his background,” Malleo said. “That culture developed allowed him to have a unique appreciation for where he was. He was not caught up in the recruiting process. All he focused on was getting better.”
His versatility stands out
Miller Forristall knew Metchie was special at the 2019 spring game.
“Metchie was a guy not a lot of people knew about until probably the spring game, and he had eight catches and 104 yards and everyone was like, ‘This John Metchie guy is going to be pretty solid,’ ” the Crimson Tide tight end said.
When Metchie arrived with the Crimson Tide, he was the fifth receiver on the depth chart. Metchie used this as an opportunity, learning from Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III (now with the Las Vegas Raiders) and 2020 Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith.
As college football evolved to favoring high-powered offenses, so did Alabama. Metchie was in the right place, just waiting for his chance to prove his value among talented receivers.
“He is a huge asset to us,” Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said. “I think he provides a lot of versatility. He is a very smart player, which is key in our system.”
When Waddle went down with a right ankle injury on Oct. 24, Metchie stepped up his role. Heading into the national title game, Metchie has 47 receptions, 835 yards and six touchdowns. This includes a 40-yard reception in the Crimson Tide’s 31-14 Rose Bowl victory over Notre Dame.
Metchie also improved his play without the ball. Look no further than the SEC championship game against the Florida Gators, where he delivered a big tackle on Gator defender Trey Dean, forcing a fumble.
These plays earned the respect of Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban.
“This guy is the epitome of what you look for in a wide receiver,” Saban said. “He is tough. He plays hurt. He plays physical. He gets open. He makes catches. He makes plays. He never complains.”
Challenges behind, challenges ahead
Metchie overcame his fear of dogs from his days in Ghana.
“It wasn’t until last year. I now have a dog.”
His focus is now on his next opponent, the Ohio State Buckeyes, in the national championship game. The Buckeyes’ secondary is well aware of the challenges the Alabama receiving corps present.
“He’s a great player, very quick step, fast, will block, so you got to get off blocks with him,” said Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade.
It’s no secret this season presented its challenges. A raging pandemic, affecting the viability of the season. A racial reckoning, calling into question anti-Black racism.
Metchie handled each challenge with grace and class like he’s done his whole life. He isn’t your prototypical football player who grew up in the United States.
He comes to the Crimson Tide with a wealth of global experience and hopes to inspire those who live in Taiwan, Ghana and Canada with his performance on and off the field.
“I just really want them to be able to know that if they want to play football at the highest level, that it definitely is attainable.”
On Monday, Metchie won’t be running away from dogs.
He hopes to run toward the end zone, cementing Alabama’s championship season.