‘Looking amazing, everybody knows how special he can be,’ Texans wide receiver John Metchie III impresses C.J. Stroud

Former second-round draft pick caught 16 passes for 158 yards in first NFL season

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 13: John Metchie III #8 of the Houston Texans runs the ball during an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Cleveland Browns at NRG Stadium on January 13, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images) (Cooper Neill, 2024 Cooper Neill)

HOUSTON – Texans wide receiver John Metchie III ran a sharp sideline route, tapped his cleats inbounds and delivered the longest reception of his career.

When the Texans needed another wide receiver to complement standout Nico Collins, Metchie stepped up in an AFC wild-card playoff victory over the Cleveland Browns. Metchie, caught three passes for 44 yards. That included a 27-yard catch that set up a Collins touchdown pass from C.J. Stroud.

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Metchie’s inspirational presence inside the Texans’ locker room represented a victory in itself.

Diagnosed with a treatable form of leukemia, acute promyelocytic leukemia, before his rookie season, Metchie overcame the disease through treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center. He battled his way back onto the football field last season, catching 16 passes for 158 yards as he played in 16 games overall with no starts during the regular season.

Months later, Metchie has been working out with Stroud, a Pro Bowl selection and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in hopes of building on his late-season progress.

And Stroud is encouraged by what he’s seen from Metchie, a former second-round draft pick from Alabama, during recent throwing sessions at UCLA that included Tank Dell and Stefon Diggs.

“He has a ton of value, a huge impact that I think he will bring this season,” Stroud said. " I think last year was good to get his feet back in the water, coming off of an injury, then something so traumatic like being sick how he was. His mindset is that he’s just ready to come back and ball.

“Not only is he a great football player, but he’s a great person and I wouldn’t want anybody else other than those guys in that room. Metchie is looking amazing. Everything that he will put on this field will be no surprise, but I think everybody in this room knows how special he can be, and he’ll put that on the field.”

And it was particularly significant for Metchie that his teammates voted him the Texans’ annual Ed Block Courage Award, recognizing his grit. The annual prestigious award salutes a player’s superb efforts both on and off the field and their ability to overcome great adversity.

“It means a lot, just being recognized by my teammates for all the things I’ve overcome in these past few years,” Metchie said in Janurary. “It means a lot, especially when it comes from the guys you spend every day with. When it comes from fans or other people that don’t know you as well, it’s different. When it comes from the guys you spend every day with and they really know the struggle and work you put in, the things you go through, it means a lot.”

SEE ALSO Texans wide receiver John Metchie III exercises patience: ‘I have to be ready whenever my number is called’

The Ed Block Courage House is a facility that provides support and quality care for abused children and their families in the community. Block served as the longtime head athletic trainer for the former Baltimore Colts, and in addition to being a pioneer in athletic training, was passionate about causes that support children.

“I think Metchie’s had a little up and downs throughout the season, had some opportunities to make plays,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said last season,. “Some moments he made them, some he didn’t. What a moment for him this past game for him to come up with a couple of big catches there, run after catch. I’m really proud of him for his journey and all that he’s been through.

“No one’s been through it tougher than him. For him to show the resolve to continue to push, continue to fight to get better at his craft, day in and day out. Nobody works harder on their craft than Metchie and it was good to see the success come from it in our first playoff game. So, very happy. I know our entire team was happy to see him make some plays to put us in position to score there.”

Metchie was in the fight of his life last year. While Metchie wondered if he would play football again, he could see where he wanted to go a few miles away at NRG Stadium.

Metchie experienced the gamut of emotions, including doubt. Ultimately, his faith and determination brought him back to the game and he is working to build his role within the Texans’ offense after spending last year on the non-football illness list.

“Patience has definitely been a theme to me, and it’s something I’ve had a lot of practice with in the last year,” Metchie said earlier this season. “Of course, it’s knowing I have to remain consistent and keep showing up and time will come. I just have to be ready.”

Metchie caught 96 receptions for 1,142 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior at Alabama in 2021, but tore a knee ligament in the Southeastern Conference championship game on Dec. 4, 2021. He finished his college career with 155 catches for 2,081 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Metchie, 23, a native of Canada who attended high school in the United States in Maryland and New Jersey before earning a football scholarship to Alabama and whose family originally moved from Ghana, is soaking up every moment. Back on the football field, back to running sharp routes and catching passes, Metchie is an inspiration to his teammates, coaches and his fellow patients and doctors.

“I would say he’s a good teammate to have,” wide receiver Robert Woods said. “I know he’s younger, but he’s also a role model to me, somebody who pushes through and doesn’t let outside factors, outside struggles ever get him down. He’s a very positive person. Seeing him battle cancer and his treatment and being able to bounce back from an early hamstring injury and getting back to make plays, he’s very inspiring to us and hopefully all of Houston as well.”

During his medical crisis, Metchie leaned heavily on his faith, his family, his friends, the Texans, Alabama coach Nick Saban and his former college teammates.

He was initially diagnosed after dealing with cold symptoms and a recurring headache.

According to medical journals, APL is a “unique subtype of acute myeloid leukemia with cells in the bone marrow that produce blood cells (red cells, white cells, and platelets) that do not develop and function normally. APL begins with one or more acquired changes (mutations) to the DNA of a single blood-forming cell. APL cells have a very specific abnormality that involves chromosomes 15 and 17, leading to the formation of an abnormal fusion gene PML/RARα. This mutated gene causes many of the features of the disease.”

And Metchie wondered and prayed and thought deeply about a lot of things, including whether he would make it back from this medical ordeal. What was going to happen to him? Would he ever regain his health and his old life?

“I guess an answer to tie into that is faith, right?” Metchie said. “One of the most curable forms of cancer, but very tough at the beginning. So, I was very blessed and grateful to have one of the most curable forms of cancer. As you saw, I didn’t lose my hair and a lot of stuff like that. So, I was very grateful and very blessed for that, but at the very beginning of it when you’re diagnosed, it’s a very tough part.

“You can only rely on your faith in those situations. In situations where you are forced to be faced with your own mortality, you see what it is you really believe in and who it is you really believe in. So, my faith in God is really what kept me comfortable in a belief that this was all for a greater purpose and a bigger reason.”

From the start, Metchie has displayed a positive attitude and an infectious personality. That inspired teammates to do his trademark celebration, the Karate Kid crane kick, after a touchdown in a tribute to Metchie.

The Texans measured expectations for Metchie because of his health issues and time away from football.

“He’s worked really hard,” Texans general manager Nick Caserio said at the end of the preseason. “I’d say he also looks like a player who hasn’t played football in 18 months, so when you miss that amount of time it just sometimes takes maybe a little bit longer. Attitude has been good. He’s been going out there and has made some plays and there’s other plays where he can certainly improve, but for what he’s gone through to get to this point.

“It’s a great story like no question about it, but okay now there has to be some kind of tangible football production behind it. I would say a player like that, there is probably a chance that he’s going to be a little bit better six to eight weeks down the road than maybe he is now. Love John and love having him here and excited for the opportunity in front of him and now it’s going to be about production and what everyone does with those opportunities.”

Metchie hosted a group of patients and staff from MD Anderson at NRG Stadium last fall. He was their host and it was a moment he’ll never forget. Those relationships, that bond, are unique for Metchie.

“Yeah, it was very special,” Metchie said. “I had a group of those people that I was talking about here and they had a great time. It was a big day for all of us just because every day at MD Anderson, we used to be up there and see the practice facility and the stadium from there, so it was cool that we were finally able to be here – have a different perspective. It’s definitely something I hope to do again and keep that group going.”

“The biggest thing I took away was just show up and fight. We kind of understand and take for granted life and everything we have to do or get to do during a day, but then when it’s taken away from you, whether you’re young or old in the hospital, you kind of realize that people see clearly what’s important to them and who’s important to them, right? Their family, their life, regardless of what they were complaining about or what stresses you have, you realize that the biggest gift you have is your breath and your heartbeat.”

There’s a long-standing tradition at MD Anderson Cancer Center of ringing the bell when a patient is cancer-free.

Metchie will never forget that feeling.

“That moment was special,” Metchie said. “It seemed to be more special for the people around me, but it was extremely special for me just because, when you get diagnosed and you’re in the hospital, you don’t really have an end clock. The best you can really do is just take it day by day and stack brick by brick. So, you’re not really looking too far down the road when you’re there.

“The other patients and I, we’re just worried about winning our fight every day. When it got to the end, you kind of look up and you’re like, ‘Damn, we’ve accumulated a lot of treatments and a lot of days.’ And that’s kind of when you start thinking about it, but I think going into that day, it was kind of the same thing for me. I was just winning the next day.”

Aaron Wilson is a Texans and NFL reporter for KPRC 2 and click2houston.com

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