Canadian John Metchie III had to overcome more than just the Ohio State Buckeyes defence on Monday night.
Metchie III had eight catches for 81 yards in top-ranked Alabama's 52-24 win over Ohio State in the NCAA football championship game. Tide head coach Nick Saban said Tuesday that Metchie III, a sophomore receiver who grew up in Brampton, Ont., played through an ankle injury the entire second half of the season.
"It was very difficult for him to practise," Saban said during a videoconference. "He actually didn't practise one play for all the practices we had for this last game, other than walkthroughs and doing a little bit of individual (work) and then goes out and plays extremely well in the game.
"I think it shows a lot of competitive toughness on his part, a lot of grit, a lot of determination and a lot of mental toughness to be able to go through and do what he did."
The six-foot-one, 190-pound Metchie III finished the season as Alabama's second-leading receiver with 55 receptions for 916 yards (16.7-yard average) with six TDs in 13 games. Metchie III said following the contest he grew up in Canada dreaming of playing in a national championship game, but the reality of winning it all was hard to fathom.
"So being able to finally play in one and win one, as a matter of fact, is surreal." he said. "It's something that's kind of hard to put words to describe.
"(The) most exciting moment of the game, it was definitely the end, definitely the confetti coming up. Just finally being able to say that we're national champs and that we went undefeated (13-0). It had been a long road, so I think that was the best moment of the game for me."
Metchie III certainly took a unique path to U.S. college football stardom. He was born in Taiwan, moved to Ghana at a young age and grew up in Brampton before heading to the U.S. to attend high school.
On Monday night, he became the first Canadian to play on an NCAA-championship squad since 2003 when Vancouver's Peter Dyakowski, an offensive lineman, suited up for LSU before heading to the CFL. That was also the first of Saban's seven national crowns, the last six coming at Alabama.
Alabama took control of Monday's contest early with its high-powered offence, storming out to a 35-17 halftime advantage. DeVonta Smith, the first receiver to win the Heisman Trophy as college football's outstanding player since 1991, went into halftime with 12 catches for 215 yards before leaving the contest in the third with a dislocated finger.
With the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility to fall sports athletes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama could return its entire offence next season. But that's highly unlikely given Smith, running back Najee Harris and offensive linemen Deonte Brown, Alex Leatherwood and Landon Dickerson are all expected to garner NFL attention and junior receiver Jaylen Waddle could also declare for the draft.
And then there's offensive co-ordinator Steve Sarkisian, the former CFL quarterback who'll now concentrate full-time on being the head coach at Texas.
"Every year is a new year, every year is a new challenge," Saban said. "You like to enjoy this game for a minute but we also know there's a lot of challenges in the future.
"In this day and age (with) the way your roster can move, you don't know for sure exactly how it's going to be right now. Guys going out for the draft, some players transferring so we just have to take it one day at a time but that process begins immediately. We'll go through the off-season program the best we can, we'll go through spring practice if we have spring practice and we'll continue to try and recruit the best we can and hopefully we get back to normal here sometime soon."
As a starter on a national championship squad, Metchie III will be counted upon to provide leadership for Alabama next fall. Saban said the lessons Metchie III learned this season and the adversity he overcame will serve him well.
"His production and performance, I think, will sort of verify that next year because the guy is a very talented guy," Saban said. "He's a hard worker and it's important to him."
Metchie III stated repeatedly this season the culture at Alabama is to compete daily and always play at a high level, elements he plans to carry forward.
"We set really high standards for us, so we have to reach it or exceed it," he said. "Going forward, it's continuing to build up what this program means and what this program does and just be able to get back to this point."
And while some might debate whether this was Alabama's most talented team, Saban said there's no question it's the most tightly-knit squad he's coached.
"This was kind of the ultimate team," Saban said. "These guys were like a high school team in terms of how they got along together, how they supported each other, how they played together, how they overcame adversity.
"It's very difficult to go undefeated, it's very difficult to deal with success but whatever the challenge was for this team, they were able to do it. Everybody bought into what we asked them to do on a daily basis. (There was) never any complaining about anything. This is just the most together, committed group I think we've every had the opportunity to be associated with . . . I'm going to remember this as a very special group."
Metchie III agreed.
"I think all around, this is an amazing team," he said. "Just our ability to fight through adversity, personal adversity, team adversity, able to come together, able to get down to the nitty-gritty of football and just persevere, really.
"I love this team and I really think that this is really a really great team."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2021.