NFL draft: From Ghana to Bama, WR John Metchie has learned to thrive amid adversity

·12 min read

Alabama WR John Metchie III called three different continents home by the age of 7.

Metchie was born in Taiwan, moved to Ghana at the age of 1, then settled in Canada with his mother and four brothers. They were seeking a better life from the one they had in Africa, making their home outside Toronto while Metchie's father remained in Africa.

Metchie and his father have only spoken a few times since — and it's been over a decade since they spoke.

When Metchie first came to the United States, it was at the age of 14, arriving at a Virginia boarding school with the mindset of becoming a college football player and then a pro.

Even after his dreams were nearly derailed because of a scary heart condition, Metchie would not be denied. Even, after he made his mark at Alabama, a painful hip impingement and a shin injury would not keep him off the field as the Crimson Tide chased a national championship in 2020.

So if you think the torn ACL he suffered in the SEC championship game against Georgia is going to slow him down, you don't know how Metchie, 21, got to this point.

"My drive comes from a loving family but also from our background, what we had to go through with our financial situation," Metchie told Yahoo Sports. "Our single mom was raising four boys, so we saw how hard she worked. Plus, when I was alone at high school — with no family nearby — I just developed this internal motivation that drives me."

Metchie declared for the 2022 NFL draft, looking to become what many believe to be just the third Taiwan-born player to enter the NFL — and almost certainly the first Taiwanese-Ghanaian player in league annals. His goal is to be a first-round pick, although he knows the injury could impact that.

But the way Metchie is feeling now still has him dreaming big.

"I’ve never had any pain with it, still don’t," he said. "I was walking a couple days after surgery. All the doctors have said this is one of the best recoveries they’ve seen because of the things I can do so far, especially without pain or a lot of swelling.

"Now I am running in the pool, and running [on a treadmill] is next. My knee is recovering so well, I am confident I’ll play next season."

Alabama WR John Metchie III hopes to be a first-round prospect in the 2022 NFL draft despite suffering a torn ACL late last season. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Alabama WR John Metchie III hopes to be a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft despite suffering a torn ACL late last season. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

The team that drafts Metchie, a possible top-50 selection, will be getting a tough, shifty slot receiver who can become a quarterback's security blanket. That team also will be getting a player — if his past is any indication — driven to succeed and surpass expectations.

"I've put all my extra energy into football and become my toughest critic," Metchie said. "I've taken pride in [the fact that] nobody had to push me or motivate me."

His coach agrees.

“This guy is the epitome of what you look for in a wide receiver,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said last year. “He is tough. He plays hurt. He plays physical. He gets open. He makes catches. He makes plays. He never complains.”

Metchie's journey to this point offers a window into why he's built this way.

John Metchie III's overseas upbringing, and what almost derailed football

Metchie was born in Taiwan to a Taiwanese mother and a Nigerian father. After living in Taiwan for a year, the family moved to Accra, Ghana, to be closer to where his father was born.

He doesn't remember Taiwan, of course, but Metchie still recalls his years in Ghana. Living in the capital city of Accra, Metchie and his brothers quickly learned they had to watch their backs a lot of the time.

"It was definitely a different life," he said. "The schooling, community — all of it."

One constant peril: dogs. Area hounds were used as security outside gated houses, and the Metchie kids knew that if they saw dogs nearby, they'd better be prepared to run.

Even at age 7 and younger, John Metchie III learned to outrun those dogs, who were taught to go after potential trespassers. He might have feared those dogs, but he never backed down from them. And little did he know that might've helped bless him with the speed and elusiveness that eventually would make him an NFL draft prospect.

But that was still years away. When their mother, Joyce, took the kids to Canada when Metchie turned 7, they didn't look back. They were starting a new life near Toronto with better schools, community and education.

Most kids near their home in Brampton, Ontario, grew up loving hockey. Joyce enrolled the boys in soccer and lacrosse. But football became their draw.

Money was still tight, though, and Metchie had to sit and watch while his older brothers got to play football before he was able to get his chance.

"Towards the end of middle school, I started playing a little bit," he said. "Before that I wasn’t able to play because we didn’t have a lot of money, and my older brothers were playing, so my mom couldn’t put us all through football at the same time.

"I was young, too, so I would just watch their practices. That’s where I fell in love with football."

When he got his shot, coaches and teammates saw Metchie's natural speed and quickness. And despite being a Canadian-raised kid, via Taiwan and Ghana, Metchie somehow knew he had what it took to play big-time college football.

"Since well before high school, honestly," Metchie said. "That was my mission. Looking back at me at [age] 13, it’s kind of shocking how confident I was. I basically knew I had to move away from my family to do what I needed to do."

Metchie enrolled at St. James School in Hagerstown, Maryland, a boarding school that had a track record of helping import foreign kids wanting to play high school football in the U.S. Two days after emailing the coach there, Metchie and his mother were touring the school.

Soon after, he'd enroll. At age 14, he was on his own, away from the rest of his family back in Africa. Metchie's father was out of the picture, still "living somewhere in Africa," he said. This was where Metchie's toughness and desire were put to the test.

Early in his freshman year, Metchie was hit hard in the chest. Immediately, his heart began racing — and kept racing. In time, it was discovered he had a murmur. Metchie was kept off the field the remainder of his freshman year out of caution.

"That was a scary period of unknown," he said. "Just being so young and having really just started playing, I wondered what that meant for sports for me. They never said I would be done playing. But it was a long time to get the final answer."

Metchie said his desire to play only grew in this time, as did his independence. He had no other choice.

"It was definitely hard to be away from family when this was going on," he said. "That period helped me grow. I had to become even more self-reliant when I was young. They understood I was there for school and for football and knew I was doing something big there."

A cardiologist eventually cleared him to play, and by the end of his senior season Metchie was a heralded recruit. Going from Taiwan to Ghana to Canada was no big deal anymore, so moving on to Alabama was just another hop, skip and a jump down his road.

His circuitous path had led him to perhaps the greatest college-football factory for NFL wide receivers. In time, Metchie would help the legacy grow.

John Metchie III celebrates a touchdown against Georgia his his
John Metchie III celebrates a touchdown against Georgia his his "Crimson Crane" kick. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Metchie's motto at Alabama: 'Do whatever you have to do'

After his freshman year spent mostly watching the likes of DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle, Metchie was ready to step up in 2020. Following the departure of Jeudy and Ruggs, the 5-11, 190-pound Metchie earned a starting role alongside Smith and Waddle to help form one of the most devastating wide receiver trios in the country.

With Waddle missing several games and Bama's opponents keying in on the Heisman Trophy-winning Smith, Metchie became a key cog for the eventual national champions, catching 55 passes for 916 yards and six TDs, including two TDs in his second-ever start against Texas A&M and two more scores against rival Auburn.

Perhaps Metchie's greatest play that season was not even a catch. In the SEC title game over Florida, Bama QB Mac Jones threw an interception in the red zone to Gators safety Trey Dean. Metchie had run a deep route down the right sideline and saw the play unfold. He came racing in and clocked Dean, knocking the ball loose and into the hands of Smith.

Bama scored on the next play. Metchie credits his preparation for the game-changing moment.

"It goes back to how we practiced at Alabama, especially me, Smitty and Waddle," Metchie said. "Our mindset at practice (was) if there’s an interception or fumble, just get the ball back — punch the ball out, strip it, do whatever you have to do."

"Doing whatever you have to do" became Metchie's raison d'etre. He played the final four games of that season battling the shin and ankle surgeries, both of which would be surgically repaired after the season.

"The last four games I had stress fractures in my shin, and I wasn’t able to practice," Metchie said. "The coaches and training staff trusted me, that I knew what I was doing. They knew practice wasn’t as big a thing for me, just be able to be out there and play on a Saturday. So I played hurt and didn’t practice. Just another form of adversity I had to face."

Last season, Metchie was still recovering from the offseason and started slowly. He hit a low point in Bama's loss at A&M, dropping three passes and committing a holding penalty that knocked the Tide out of scoring range. Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams had taken over Bama's WR1 role after a slew of big plays.

But Metchie was not about to go quietly. In his final seven games of the season, he caught 62 passes for 779 yards and six scores, which included clutch performances in tight wins over LSU, Arkansas and Auburn. After catching the game-winning score in the fourth overtime against Auburn, Metchie unleashed his "Crimson Crane" kick celebration, the one inspired by the "Karate Kid" series, and wrote his own chapter of Bama lore in the process.

"I think I started the season a lot slower than I wanted to," he said. "I was coming off two surgeries, so coming into the season I wasn’t 100%. I was still getting used to my shin. But there was a point there where I really started feeling better. Looking back, I was really productive."

As in 96 catches productive — the third-most in a season in school history, behind only Smith and Amari Cooper. And that was without the benefit of playing in the two playoff games, thanks to what Nick Saban had termed the "significant" torn ACL Metchie suffered against Georgia.

Because he's still rehabbing, Metchie won't be able to run, jump or work out at next week's NFL combine. But he believes he has legitimate 4.4 speed once he's healthy and has set a goal of being ready for training camp — just another challenge for the already battle-tested Metchie.

His physical therapist at the Andrews Institute, Tyler Optiz, has already been stunned at the progress Metchie has made. He came into Opitz's care a week after Bama lost the national championship on Jan. 10, and in the six weeks since, Metchie's recovery has been remarkable.

"When he first came in, I said, 'Holy smokes, this guy is killing it,'" Opitz said. "His quad in his left (injured) leg was almost as big as his right. The mass and the definition was almost the same in both legs. You just don't see that at the six-week mark (post-surgery). It was incredible."

Opitz was so blown away, he was snapping pictures of Metchie's quads and texting them to colleagues to share his amazement. Now six weeks later, Opitz absolutely backs up Metchie's claims that training camp is a realistic goal.

"The biggest thing for John is that he's not just ahead of schedule, but he's pain-free, which has allowed us to do things a lot earlier," Opitz said. "Things like heavier weights, strength training, building muscle back faster.

"Pain has not been a limiting factor. Flexibility hasn't either. So we've been able to start all of our pre-running drills and pre-cutting and twisting drills earlier. We call them movement skill drills. They don't stress the (ACL) graft, but we can get started on reintroducing the mechanics of running so much earlier because of where he's at."

On the side, Metchie has time for another passion: getting involved in the community. He recently read books to more than 800 students at Oriole Beach Elementary School in Gulf Breeze, Fla., afterward posing for pictures (even doing "Crimson Crane" kicks in a few) and talking to the children about the importance of reading.

"I was one of those kids who had all the odds of the world against me," he said. "Coming from Africa and having big dreams, I know what a little inspiration can do for a kid. I just love being able to make a difference in the community, and to kids especially."

Now the fruits of Metchie's own inspiration are just a few months away, with April's NFL draft right around the corner.

"I just want to get to work," Metchie said. "I am going to show up (to whatever team drafts him) ready to do whatever I can do. I'm very confident this injury won't slow me down."