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How receiver DK Metcalf overcame a ‘heartbreaking’ injury to become a Seahawks rookie sensation

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 9, 2020

Seattle Seahawks’ D.K. Metcalf catches a touchdown pass during the second half of an NFL wild-card game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, in Philadelphia. (Julio Cortez / AP)
Seattle Seahawks’ D.K. Metcalf catches a touchdown pass during the second half of an NFL wild-card game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, in Philadelphia. (Julio Cortez / AP)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

RENTON, Wash. – Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf considers every day a miracle, the word he has tattooed across his back as a reminder of how he overcame his greatest life challenge.

He also understands every day, no matter how good or bad, is one that eventually has to be put in the past.

Last Sunday couldn’t have been scripted much better for Metcalf. He set an NFL rookie playoff record with 160 yards receiving as the Seahawks beat the Eagles 17-9 in a wild-card win in Philadelphia and in the process became a social-media sensation, with none other than LeBron James tweeting his congrats.

But Wednesday, when he met a media contingent that is ever-growing as the Seahawks play deeper into January, he said he knew the time to celebrate was over.

“It was cool,” Metcalf said Wednesday of the tweet by James. “But like I said, it’s time to focus in (on Green Bay this week). Can’t harp on that. It’s just one moment.”

Metcalf, though, undoubtedly took at least a few minutes in that moment to reflect on a 15-month road filled with highs and lows he could never have envisioned.

In college, Metcalf suffered a cervical neck fracture while blocking on a kickoff return for Mississippi against Arkansas on Oct. 13, 2018. After the injury, the first doctor who examined Metcalf told him he’d never play football again.

“Heartbreaking,” Metcalf said Wednesday about his thoughts as the enormity of the doctor’s words soaked in. “I cried because football was taken away from me at that moment.”

For the next week, he began considering living without the sport he’d known his whole life. His father, Terrance, played offensive line for the Chicago Bears from 2002 to 2008.

“I was just going to focus on getting my degree and finishing school,” he said.

A week later, another doctor, Kevin Foley, told Metcalf surgery could fix the injury and allow him to continue to play.

“He’s done the surgery plenty of times, and he told me I was going to be fine,” Metcalf said.

By January, he had recovered well enough that he received an official clean bill of health, and announced he would attend the NFL combine and other workouts.

Still, health questions lingered, even when he ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the combine and turned in 27 bench-press reps of 225 pounds to emerge as one of the media-proclaimed winners of the event. At the combine, he had a memorable meeting with the Seahawks, in which coach Pete Carroll took off his shirt to mimic a photo of a shirtless Metcalf that had gone viral.

Concerns about Metcalf’s durability (he played just 21 games in three years in college), along with questions of how he’d been used and his overall production at Ole Miss, contributed to Metcalf falling to the second round of the draft.

As he slid, the Seahawks moved up to take him, trading the 77th and 118th picks to the Patriots to get the 64th pick and select Metcalf (New England used those picks on defensive end Chase Winovich, who had 12 tackles and 5 1/2 sacks this season, and guard Hjalte Froholdt, who did not play this season after suffering an injury in the preseason).

Metcalf had thought he’d go in the first round and was memorably shown asking the Seahawks what took them so long when they called to tell him they had drafted him.

“At the moment I was mad,” Metcalf said. But now, he says, “It was the perfect situation for me. … After everything was said and done, I’m just happy that I landed here.”

Even if, he will allow, landing anywhere at all was a victory given his major injury and subsequent surgery.

“It shows me not to take anything for granted,” he said. “Not a moment. Not even a practice for granted. Just go out there and give it all I got.”

Without question, he’s done that with the Seahawks.

Quarterback Russell Wilson has often cited how Metcalf got up at 5:20 a.m. for a few weeks during the summer to work out with him at UCLA.

“I think his preparation, how he’s come in and prepared week in and week out – even since the offseason – all the extra work, all the early mornings – (we were) throwing at 5:20 in the morning in the summertime,” Wilson said. “That’s what greatness looks like.”

Carroll recently marveled how Metcalf asked to be on the punt-block team – and Metcalf actually got some special-teams snaps against the Vikings, Rams and Panthers, the first of his career.

“I wanted to play gunner,” Carroll said.

Receiver, for now, is enough.

Metcalf finished the regular season with the third-most receiving yards of any rookie (900) and had the second-most receptions for a rookie in team history (58).

There was no danger in Green Bay overlooking him even before last week. But the Packers’ focus on him might be even more heightened after Metcalf soared against the Eagles. There is some speculation Green Bay could put former UW Huskies cornerback Kevin King on Metcalf as often as possible to try to match his size (King stands 6-foot-3 to Metcalf’s 6-4).

Metcalf shrugged at the idea the Packers might try to devise a special defense for him in the wake of the Eagles game.

“If they are going to do that, then Tyler (Lockett) and D-Mo (David Moore) are going to have a breakout game,” Metcalf said.

Metcalf, though, promises to get in a few moments, too.

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