After a successful rookie campaign starring for the Seahawks, it seems nothing can stop speedy receiver DK Metcalf.
Not linebackers. Not defensive backs. Not 3-cone drills.
Not even toe surgery.
According to Mike Azlin, Metcalf’s business calculus professor during his first semester at Ole Miss, Metcalf made a lasting impression when he showed up for class one morning… one hour after surgery.
“DK broke his toe on a touchdown catch against Alabama his freshman year - that was his second game of the season, maybe the third - and he didn’t come back in the game after that because they looked to see if he hurt it coming down after the touchdown."
A few days after the game, Azlin's class was scheduled to meet on Tuesday morning and after checking his e-mail, he didn't expect Metcalf to be in attendance.
"It was Tuesday morning after that, he was in my 10:00 AM class, and I got an email an hour before class was supposed to start from athletics that said, ‘Please excuse DK from class today. He’s having surgery this morning on his foot."
Before being contacted, Azlin didn't know the severity of Metcalf's injury. Though he didn't check back into the game for the Rebels, he was caught off guard a bit by the news he would need surgery.
With 120 students in the class, the show would go on as planned for Azlin. As usual, he scanned over the student body, failing to notice the 6-foot-3, 228-pound Metcalf had snuck in for class after all.
"Well, I didn’t notice DK, but he was in the back of the classroom. Normally he sat up front in this big auditorium. I saw him after class on one of those little scooters to keep your leg off the ground, and he’s motioning me up to the top of the auditorium. He asks, ‘Hey, can you scan me for attendance?"
Azlin responded, "Yeah, but… what are you doing here?! I got an email saying you weren’t coming to class because of surgery this morning."
Admitting he did undergo surgery, Metcalf shot back, "Yeah, but that piddly sh*t’s not keeping me from coming to class!"
While college athletes give their all in the game, college professors often struggle to incite the same passion from them in the classroom. But Metcalf was different - he was the same person on and off the field, in and out of the classroom. He was a shining talent at Ole Miss, destined for NFL greatness. But he was also one of Mr. Azlin’s best students.
“I knew that he was a good student before that, knowing the assignments he turned in and his grades, but it really made an impression, a good impression, of the type of student I expected him to be. After I heard that, I expected more than I normally expect of students. When he said something like that wasn’t keeping him from coming to class, I thought, ‘Yeah, okay, he’s gonna be a really good student.’ And then he was.”
As a dedicated teacher, Azlin appreciated seeing the same determined attitude in one of his students, especially one of the top recruits from the football program.
“It was just so refreshing to hear something like that: ‘I’m coming to class no matter what.’ A lot of students don’t have that dedication to class, and he did.”
A loyal fan for Ole Miss athletics, Azlin saw that same work ethic applied to Metcalf’s football career, where he excelled as a star receiver for the school. Though injuries were a problem for him in three years on campus, his effort didn't go unnoticed.
“I’d go in for warm-ups and see him running routes, see the work he puts in on the field, following through his career at Ole Miss," Azlin elaborated. "When he got drafted - which he got drafted too low - after seeing him get drafted and seeing him post stuff about work outs, I think he has that type of ethic no matter what he does. Whether it’s academics, whether it’s football, whether it’s day-to-day activities, I think he has a very strong work ethic in his day-to-day life.”
Ever since that impressionable autumn morning, Azlin hasn’t been surprised by anything Metcalf has accomplished - not even by his immediate success in the NFL.
“When he said what he did about not missing class after surgery that he had just had that morning, I have not been surprised by anything he’s done. At all.”
Alongside work ethic, Azlin has seen a consistency from Metcalf towards his roots and values, dedicating time and resources to the two places he calls home.
“From what I see, I think he’s involved in things in Seattle, he’s still involved with things from Oxford… A lot of times, you’ll see a negative aspect with folks who go pro, and I don’t see that with DK.”
Azlin and Metcalf remained friends afterwards, occasionally bumping into each other on campus. While many of us first “met” Metcalf when he ran a blistering 4.33-second 40-yard dash or when he and Pete Carroll went shirtless at the 2018 NFL combine, Azlin already knew Metcalf was both competitive and comedic.
“I got on to him a little bit the following year, when we met each other in one of the hallways. He had gotten a penalty the previous Saturday for unsportsmanlike conduct for reaching up and smacking somebody. I said, ‘Look, you gotta cut that out,' and he said, “I know, I know… but he was running his mouth!”
Mississippi doesn’t have its own NFL team, so Azlin has done what every Ole Miss fan has done for decades: followed the Manning family.
“I am a Manning family fan. My dad was friends with Archie - I even got Archie’s cast when he broke his arm playing here at Ole Miss. I’ve been a Colts fan, a Broncos fan for Peyton, and a Giants fan for Eli. One of the saddest days was when the Seahawks beat the Broncos in the Super Bowl.”
The Manning family isn’t the only Mississippi football dynasty - the Metcalfs may be starting their own. DK’s father, Terrence, was a talented offensive guard at Ole Miss, earning First-Team SEC honors and First-Team All-American honors before the Chicago Bears drafted him in 2002. Terrence played seven seasons with the Bears, retiring with the Saints in 2010.
As a high school coach in Mississippi, Terrence mentored DK into finding his own success amongst collegiate and professional elites.
With the current generation of Mannings retired, Azlin remained a fan of his former student, ironically supporting the very team that brutally beat the Broncos in the 2013 Super Bowl.
“I won’t sit and watch an NFL game in its entirety unless it’s Seattle playing - I make sure I watch Seattle’s games. So yeah, [I'm] a Seattle fan now. Totally against them when they played against the Broncos in the Super Bowl, totally for them now.”
While Azlin would have liked to see Metcalf go to a “pass-happy team” to boost his individual stats, he believes the wideout is in a good place in Seattle.
“I’m happy to see him in Seattle," Azlin remarked. "And that they made the playoffs his first year and that he had such success his first year. I’m glad to see him go to a program that I think is gonna do things and win and has a winning record through the years."
“I think he’s with a good program, a good system - a winning system. I think Seattle has a good balance and utilizes him well.”
However, Azlin believes that NFL scouts underestimated Metcalf at the combine, missing out on the intangibles that those who have coached or taught the gifted young man have seen since day one.
“I thought that he should have gone earlier in the draft. I would have liked to have seen him drafted earlier. I thought he deserved it. I thought his performance in college and his performance at the combine should have garnered him more attention. Apparently it didn’t, I don’t know why people passed... the 3-cone drill, I guess?”
Metcalf was a projected first round pick, with many considering him a steal for the Seahawks when he fell to them at No. 64 overall to close out the second round. Despite his size, speed, and collegiate performance when healthy, Metcalf’s route running was called into question and his surprisingly slow 3-cone drill time during the combine became a red flag for many teams. To put it into perspective, his testing in that drill was slower than Tom Brady.
Yet, just as Brady was heavily underestimated after his combine performance, Metcalf proved himself to be one of the most productive rookie wide receivers in the NFL in 2019. He made an immediate splash in Seattle’s offense, racking up 58 receptions for 900 yards and seven touchdowns. He was a playoff play maker as well, gaining 219 yards and a touchdown in a mere 11 receptions. He shattered a rookie single-game playoff record with 160 receiving yards in a wild card win over the Eagles.
And his route running? Let’s just say the Seahawks found a way to make it work.
Metcalf ran meandering routes, avoiding quick cuts that are undeniably difficult for tall receivers. Instead, he used his height and speed to bolt ahead, dizzying cornerbacks with still unpredictable routes. With the recent addition of Phillip Dorsett to go with Tyler Lockett, Metcalf should remain a secure receiver option and a deep threat for seasons to come.
Of course, one of his friends from his Ole Miss days has higher hopes for him. When asked what he expects for Metcalf’s future, Azlin paused to formulate an answer.
“MVP,” he said confidently.
“I’d like to see him be the top receiver in the league. I’d like to see him be recognized as the top receiver in the league.”
While that might seem like a lofty goal, Metcalf isn't like most players. He's made up of a different type of DNA and strives for greatness. There's a reason he's always the last player off the practice field in Seattle, catching passes of the JUGS machine until he's forced to leave.
The moral of the story? If DK won’t let a piddly broken toe stop him, perhaps nothing will.