ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan free safety Josh Metellus lives by a simple rule. The philosophy is straightforward, concise and undeniable.
And it’s the reason why he sits in his current position as a developing star in coordinator Don Brown’s No. 1-ranked total defense.
“To be a leader, you have to follow first,” said the Wolverines sophomore defensive back.
Because of his maturity, emotional leadership — emotion is a major component of his game, he said — and consistency (and not just as an athlete), Metellus has earned the highest level of respect from coach Jim Harbaugh, the team’s staff and its players.
Three years ago, Harbaugh recognized a particular way about the Flanagan High (Fla.) standout senior.
Athleticism? Sure. That was evident. That’s what initially piqued Harbaugh’s interest and caught his attention.
However, there was more to the lanky teenager.
“He was young when we recruited him, even as a high school senior,” Harbaugh said. “He was 16 years old. We felt like he was mature for his age at that point. …”
Since then, Metellus — who is also one of the Big Ten’s top young defensive backs — has done nothing but make plays and push others to do the same. Work ethic and drive have never been questioned.
“He’s been a contributor since he’s gotten on campus — a favorite of the coaches and players,” Harbaugh added. “A very good teammate and competitor.”
In the midst of his second season, Metellus — who gained attention for a 2-point score during UM’s 33-32 Orange Bowl loss to Florida State — has steadily evolved from a promising underclassman to someone worthy of future captaincy.
Admiration and appreciation from peers fuel his desire to do more than simply blend into the crowd.
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) October 10, 2017
“You know, being a favorite of my teammates and my coaches, I carry myself in a certain way,” Metellus said. “I like to be the one people depend on. I like to be the leader in certain situations. So you know, getting that love and getting that feeling from my teammates and coaches, it just really helped me strive to be a better football player and a better teammate and a better player for the coaches.
“I just take that as more motivation to keep being me and keep doing what I’m doing.”
Following Michigan’s 14-10 home loss to Michigan State, Metellus appeared distraught while digesting the setback to the in-state rival. Looking around the stadium, he could see looks of dissatisfaction on the faces of players and fans.
It hurt — physically and mentally. And that loss hurt Metellus, who had a pass break-up while helping hold the Spartans to just two first downs in the second half Saturday in Ann Arbor. As a whole, the UM defense put forth a noteworthy effort during the torrential downpour.
But it wasn’t enough. However, the loss served as a valuable lesson.
Everything happens for a reason! Remember that 💯
— 4-1 (@NoExcuses_23) October 11, 2017
Real 💯 https://t.co/RrWNLMxwBT
— Tarik Black (@LetmeRockk_) October 11, 2017
Rarely equaled, his passion has impressed those at his side, prompting teammates to push a little more. They want to want it like Metellus.
“He took that game really seriously. He loves the game,” said sophomore viper Khaleke Hudson, one of Metellus’ close friends. “Nobody likes losing. It was a personal game. …”
Fellow 2016 classmate Rashan Gary felt the same way. It hurt him to see Metellus upset and thrown off balance. But at the same time, the defensive end understood Metellus’ motivation.
“He’s a beast. There’s not much (else I can say). Every play, he plays like it’s his last one,” Gary said. “As you saw after the game, he was emotional — that just shows you how much this game means to him, and I love playing with him.”
“Love” is a strong word, not to be tossed around on a whim.
But it’s the right one to describe their relationship, not just a polite comment to the media.
“That’s my brother. I lived with him over the summer,” Gary continued. “You know, I worked out with him, I sweated with him, cried with him, bled with him — that’s my brother.”
As a child and adolescent, and into his teen years, Metellus was always the responsible type. He always recognized the value of an honest effort.
He learned that every day at home.
“I put all the praise on my mom. She’s always been there for me, and I’ve always watched her work hard — no matter what the circumstance we were in as a family,” Metellus said. “[Regardless] if were struggling or if we weren’t — I just always watched her work hard and give her all to everything. I feel like that’s something that’s helped me take on each challenge in my life.”
From following the examples of older players at the local Optimist Club to recognizing the right and wrong approach for, well, everything, Metellus has always been aware of the bigger picture. He’s always realized that every action causes a reaction.
“To be at the top, to be a leader, you have to follow first,” Metellus said. “I always just took that upon myself to do the same thing.”
It’s been the same song and dance since the day Harbaugh recruited Metellus. No act. No phase. Just genuine effort.
“He’s always been a real diligent guy. I haven’t seen any change with that,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a very hard worker and takes care of business. I haven’t seen in any change in that.”
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