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Dave Naylor

TSN Football Insider

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There have been many stops on the road that’s taken John Metchie all the way to tonight’s College Football Playoff National Championship, where he will suit up at receiver for the University of Alabama against Ohio State.

He was born in Taiwan, and lived in Nigeria and Ghana before arriving with his parents and three older brothers in Canada when he was six years old.

He then attended two boarding schools in the U.S. for high school, one in Maryland and one in New Jersey, before moving to Tuscaloosa, Ala.

But to understand where Metchie’s dreams were born and nurtured, and where his connections remain strongest, you have to go to Brampton, Ont. That’s where he learned the game, playing for the Brampton Bulldogs pee wee team and under the tutelage of three football-playing older brothers, while forging friendships that remain strong to this day.

“The relationships I have with my brothers and my close friends back in Brampton mean everything to me,” Metchie said during availability leading up to tonight’s game. “They are the reason I am the way I am. They have helped me with everything, and they continue to be there for me, unconditionally.”

Having moved so much early in their lives, the Metchie brothers were already close when they arrived in Canada. The eldest brother, Miles, joined his high school football team. Mostly out of simple curiosity, the younger boys would ride their bikes over to the school to watch him practice this new game.

A curiosity quickly became a passion and before long all four brothers were playing, with John soaking in everything he could from the support and experience of his brothers.

Miles, Leon and Royce all went on to play university football in Canada. Royce, a defensive back, is entering his third season with the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders.

“If there is one thing I can say with how our childhood was in terms of moving, it definitely made our bonds much stronger,” said Royce. “As you can imagine, moving around a lot you have to start new everywhere you go. You have to make new friends, new relationships but thankfully one thing that was constant was that we always had each other.”

When the older boys were in their teens, the Metchie house evolved into a hub for nearby athletes from football and beyond. It was where they gathered to train and to support and challenge each other as athletes and young men.

The impact of those days has stayed with them.

“We were always there. It was always positive, it was always good vibes,” said Melique Straker, a defensive back at Carleton University who played with Metchie on the Bulldogs. “It was always ‘Whoever is there, whatever we’re doing, we’re doing it together.’ We go out, we work-out, we train … it was kind of like a positive thing we could look at …  and it built us. We grew-up there.”

Metchie’s talent in those early days was as noteworthy as his ambition. Friends recall a naturally gifted athlete who was dead serious about what he believed he could accomplish in his sport. That drive included forging his own path, opting to leave home at the start of high school for the U.S. so he could train and play against higher competition.

“His upbringing was very different from a lot of kids,” said Royce. “He had the experience of many different cultures, moving around. He had started watching the three of us play and he got into it. But he built really good relationships with his friends through pee wee, bantam, all the way up.”

Those relationships have stayed strong among the former teammates through a group chat they call “The 905.”

That group includes University of Tennessee receiver Josh Palmer, a hopeful for this spring’s NFL Draft whose roots also go back to the Bulldogs, as well as several friends who play university football in Canada.

Through the group chats, they’ve maintained the vibe they used to experience as kids at the Metchie house, an experience they’ve stamped with the term “11MMG,” in reference to the actual address. Some in the group — including Metchie — even have 11MMG tattoos.

“We kept that as a memory of how we got to where we are going and to never forget where we’re from,” said Trent Parkes, a receiver at Wilfred Laurier University and another Bulldog teammate of Metchie’s. “Having that brotherhood it wasn’t just about football. It was about [being there for] each other at the end of the day … that really facilitated our relationship and allowed it to grow into more of a family.”

Understandably, such tight bonds have made Alabama football games emotional experiences for Metchie’s friends, who can appreciate what’s gone into his success during his breakout sophomore season. Metchie has been the Crimson Tide’s second-leading receiver, behind Heisman Trophy winner Devonte Smith, with 43 receptions for 835 yards and six touchdowns.

 “It’s such a surreal feeling because when we were younger we would play NCAA [video game] and always pick the best teams – Alabama, Oregon, whatever,” said Juwan Jeffrey, a defensive back at the University of Guelph. “To turn on the TV and watch of my closest friends on that team, it’s a great feeling.”​