Texans wide receiver John Metchie III wore sunglasses for the occasion, rejoining his teammates and catching passes on the practice field during a voluntary minicamp. He was a full participant, an encouraging sign for the former second-round draft pick from Alabama who missed his entire rookie season after being diagnosed with a treatable form of leukemia.
By all accounts, Metchie has made an outstanding recovery after being diagnosed last July. Now, Metchie is making a comeback from the illness after spending last year on the non-football illness list with acute promyelocytic leukemia.
“Nobody’s worked harder to get himself to this point,” Texans general manager Nick Caserio said. “I wouldn’t say anybody is surprised that he’s arrived at this point. I’d say his will to work, his effort, his mental and physical toughness, and the work with the sports performance staff has been incredible. There’s a lot of people that deserve a lot of credit that have helped him get to this point. Start with John.
“I would say it’s kind of inspiring to see somebody do that. He’s making progress. He’s in a good spot. Haven’t been any setbacks. Still a long road ahead of us, and he hasn’t played a lot of football. We’re all certainly cautiously optimistic about where he’s headed.”
The next step for Metchie is practicing in upcoming organized team activities.
“He’s making progress,” Caserio said. “He was a full participant last week when we got on the field. He hasn’t played football in a long time, so when we actually start practicing football, some of the football movements that are involved, space, defense, not that we’re going to have contact.”
Metchie has made steady progress in his recovery from leukemia and is participating in the Texans’ offseason conditioning program. Metchie trained every year he was at Alabama with his friend and Tuscaloosa-based trainer Christian Roshell.
“I talked to him a couple weeks ago to check in with him and let him know how proud I am of his recovery, not only as a football player but as a man to overcome that obstacle,” Roshell said. “He’s feeling good. Cancer is scary. Of course he was scared. but he’s a warrior. He knows how to battle.
“The goal for the season is to always go out there and be the best he can be. John is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. For him to overcome that obstacle, it means a lot. He’s a great person. He’s a hell of a person. It’s a beautiful thing to see. When you go by the saying, good things come to good people. He’s ready. He’s so anxious to play.”
In a nod of respect toward Metchie wide receiver Jalen Camp delivered a convincing rendition of Metchie’s trademark touchdown celebration during a preseason victory over the New Orleans Saints last August.
When Metchie scored touchdowns at Alabama he would pose in the end zone in a manner reminiscent of the crane kick from the Karate Kid movies.
It was a planned celebration as the Texans’ wide receivers wanted to pay tribute to Metchie during his battle with leukemia. The first wide receiver to score a touchdown would carry out the celebration to honor Metchie.
“When you talk about a guy like John Metchie, just hearing his story and meeting him in person, it marries up,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “Outstanding young man off the field. Great energy. Always around. Every time I seen him in the building, huge smiling on his face.
“No matter what adversity he’s faced, he’s attacking it with a smile, with the right attitude. It just solidifies the type of person that he is and the type of people and the type of players that we want to add to our team, it’s guys with that type of attitude.”
Metchie delivered an emotional video message to the team before the first practice of camp, approved wholeheartedly of what Camp did.
Metchie talked frequently with teammates and coaches and remaining a part of a team that’s been extremely supportive of him.
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.”
A common symptom of APL is bleeding due to reduced numbers of platelets and deficiencies in clotting factors. That symptom can be life-threatening and has to be managed by medical supervision to prevent complications and treat the disease.
A common treatment for APL is a highly successful drug called ATRA (all-trans retinoic acid) to target the chromosomal abnormality. Because of advances in treatment, cure rates of 90% have been reported from medical centers specializing in APL treatment.
“Recently, I was diagnosed with APL (Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia), the most curable form of Leukemia,” Metchie said in a statement before training camp. “I am currently receiving great medical care, am in good spirits, and I expect to make a recovery at a later point in time. “As a result of this diagnosis, I will likely not be playing football this season. My main focus will be on my health and recovery. Thank you in advance for your support and well-wishes. I cannot wait to come back stronger than ever. God bless.”
Former Texans starting safety Andre Hal was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2018. When his cancer went into remission after undergoing treatment, Hal returned that season to play in eight games and intercepted three passes.
Retired since 2019, Hal provided his perspective on the road ahead for Metchie.
“You have to stay focused on being positive, staying positive, and keeping your family around,” Hal said in a telephone interview. “I would tell him to eat real healthy, stay focused, and stay clear on his mission. Pray a lot. I would definitely talk to him; kind of went through the same thing. I know where he’s at right now. You’ve got to go for it head-first; go at it. He’s going at it right now.”
A fellow former Alabama standout, Ryans is extremely familiar with Metchie’s situation.
“Yeah, John is doing fine,” Ryans said. “We’ll see John get involved with our offseason program. And with John, as with every other player, we’re going to take it one day at a time and see where he can grow and where he can be when the time comes. At the right time, when the season comes, we’ll see where he is.”
“I saw Metchie a lot playing at Alabama, a truly talented kid. I’m just proud of the things that he’s been through, such a resilient young man who I’m happy and excited to work with. Just so proud of the process and the things he’s been through, he shows all the mental toughness and grit and all those things, I’m proud of how Metchie has continued to battle.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.