Alabama Crimson Tide football players ready to defend championship

Alabama Crimson Tide football players ready to defend championship
Alabama wide receiver John Metchie III, left, and defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis are excited about their team's 2021 prospects and looking forward to playing to a full house at Bryant-Denny Stadium. (Jimmie Mitchell / SEC)

Dressed in his steel gray checked suit, gray shirt and silk gray tie, John Metchie III looked to be vying for Best Dressed at SEC Media Days. But the top returning receiver for the Alabama Crimson Tide wasn’t going to campaign for the title.

“I don’t think that is a self-appointed (honor),” he said after his attire was noted at least twice. “I have heard it going around the room, so I wouldn’t mind taking that thing.”

During the Nick Saban era, Alabama has let its actions speak when it comes to where it ranks against other football programs. And no one has looked better than the Tide during an era filled with national championship trophies.

Metchie and defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis faced media Wednesday at SEC Media Days at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham – Wynfrey Hotel. They and Saban were the first to step to the podium on Day 3 of the annual gathering of football coaches and players with media members.

Alabama Crimson Tide football players Mathis, Metchie talk upcoming season, coaches, NIL and COVID challenges from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Mathis gave opponents of the Crimson Tide reason to be concerned as they approach the 2021 college football season. The offensive lineman and his mates, despite the restrictions and constraints of COVID-19 protocols, were able to complete an undefeated all-SEC regular season and continue winning through the SEC Championship and the College Football Playoffs to claim the program’s 18th national title.

This season, Mathis said, the Tide could rise again.

“I feel like it’s just gonna make us even better,” he said. “We’ve just got to load up and keep pushing. Last year, it’s over. It’s a whole new year, so ain’t nothing gonna change about Bama. We’re gonna continue to work.”

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And while Alabama could be better with the benefit of complete offseason and preseason training, Mathis didn’t bite on the notion that there may be a drop-off between Alabama at the top and other teams that follow.

“For me, it’s always an adjustment for every game,” he said. “Everybody, when they play us, they give their best and it’s always a challenge. I wouldn’t say everything’s always easy or nothing like that. I just say that, you know, we always got to adjust everything that we do.”

The defensive lineman said perhaps Alabama’s biggest challenger this year is the one it must fend off every season – complacency.

“That’s a very important thing to stay on guys about what last year’s team did,” Mathis said. “This a whole new team and we can’t think about that. We’re trying to get back to that point. We can use that as motivation, but being cocky, like we’ve already won, that’s not gonna get us nowhere.”

Metchie has inherited the title of No. 1 receiver for a football program that’s churned out some of the best to move on to the National Football League. He said it’s a role he is embracing, having learned from all the guys who shouldered that load before him.

“I’m definitely excited about it,” he said. “I’m looking forward to being able to teach the young guys things and definitely lead the receiver room. I’m definitely looking forward to that.”

Seven-on-seven workouts during the summer have let him know there’s still talent in the Tide receiver room.

“There were a lot of the receivers that stood out,” Metchie said. “I think all the guys in the freshman class are doing really good. Agiye (Hall), (Javon) Baker (are) doing really good, Slade (Bolden), even the older guys. I think just as a team everybody is coming along.”

Mathis was excited about the notion of again playing in Bryant-Denny Stadium without the COVID protocols that limited the number of fans who could attend Tide games. This season, plans are in place for a return to full capacity.

“Man, I know it’s gonna be lit this year,” Mathis said. “All the fans gonna be back. We’re fixing to get that real Bama standard from the fans also. It’s gonna be very electric.”

That said, players were asked what players and coaches are saying about getting or declining vaccination to protect against the disease, including the delta variant.

Said Mathis, “Everybody’s got their own reason why they want to get it and why they don’t want to get it, so at the end of the day, you’ve just got to support everybody’s decision. I got it, so I don’t see nothing wrong with it. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to respect everybody’s decision on why they don’t want it or do want it.”

Phidarian Mathis speaks at SEC Media Days 2021 from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Metchie said everyone must make the best decision for himself.

“I think at Alabama our coaches and our staff have done a great job of kind of just informing us, bringing people in to talk to us and make us aware,” the wide receiver said. “I think at the end of the day everybody just has to make the best decision they think is best for themselves and their family.

“Personally,” Metchie said, “I know that most of our team and our staff is vaccinated.”

John Metchie III speaks at SEC Media Days 2021 from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Metchie was also asked if players like sophomore quarterback Bryce Young reportedly getting nearly $1 million because of recent rulings on players’ name, image and likeness could sour a locker room.

The wide receiver said it’s a great opportunity for a lot of college players, but it really hasn’t changed his mindset.

“Personally, I’m keeping the main thing the main thing,” he said. “I understand that as long as I continue to do what I do on the field, and as long as we continue to do that as a team, the opportunities will be there for us off the field.”

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