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September 4, 2019

THE YOUNG PADAWAN

Shorn of a light-sabre, Josh Bell was still only too happy to go all Star Wars and channel his inner Obi-Wan Kenobi.

“Metchie?’’ Bell’s expression softens to an almost parental degree. “He is my Padawan.”

Seeing the blank confusion on his pint-sized interrogator’s face, the Calgary Stampeders’ defensive secondary coach adds, by way of explanation for the tragically uninitiated: “My Jedi Apprentice.

“Man, he is my Luke Skywalker.

“Once he gets the wisdom, he is going to be outrageous. Out-rageous. We’ve seen flashes of it so far. Sparks.

“When he got here for training camp last year until we got the expanded rosters in October, he grew more as a player in a short period of time than I’ve ever seen in the CFL.

“He grew to the point where I think he could’ve started the Grey Cup for us and we would’ve won.

“I had – I have – that much confidence in him.

“One day, he’ll be a Jedi Master.”

The Star Wars theme, apparently, is a familiar one in the position coach-player relationship.

“I mean, I knew what it meant before,’’ protests the 22-year-old Royce Metchie, grinning, “but he also says it. A lot.

“To be fair, I do kind of look at him as a Jedi Master. The old guy, the Yoda, trying to get me right, give me all of his knowledge.

“As a DB, you have a lot of good coaches. But for me, with Bell, it’s not just that he’s a great coach but he was a great player. And he played the position himself. He isn’t too long removed from playing the game, either, so he knows exactly what I might be thinking in different situations even before I think it. He’s helped me see things I never noticed before in football.

“The way he relates to us, it’s almost like Smitty or Wall. There’s that degree of communication.”

Labour Day Monday against those dastardly Edmonton Eskimos, charging in like Willie Mays manning centre field, Metchie cradled and held a high-fly-ball deflected Trevor Harris pass to record his first pro interception.

And he could’ve added a second pick on the day, as well, the ball ricocheting off his helmet.

“I’m glad I’ve gotten the first one out of the way,’’ Metchie confesses. “I got a little taste of the ball. To be honest, it’s just made me hungry for more.

“Let’s see if I can take the next one to The Crib.”

Saturday’s business end of the Labour Day Week doubleheader at Commonwealth Stadium would seem as good a time as any for that.

“And the other one, I should’ve caught that,’’ Metchie sighs. “That was a good opportunity to get our offence back on the field. In football, the plays you can make are always numbered, so when one comes your way you’d better make it. I look at it as kind of an insult to the other guys, who are doing their jobs. They trust me to make it. And I didn’t.

The kid’s being a more than a trifle hard on himself. Which is also an admirable trait to possess.

With Tunde Adeleke moving via free-agency to Hamilton, six-season veteran Adam Berger seemed the logical choice to inherit the safety spot, a non-import position.

But when Berger announced his retirement on May 6, the job opened up and Calgary’s third-round selection in the 2018 CFL out of Guelph, with a scant seven starts and five special-teams tackles on his docket from 2018, has stepped in and made the position his own, starting all 10 games thus far.

“Not many people saw this happening? Guess that’s why a lot of people can’t be coaches,’’ parries Bell lightly.

“He’s eager. He listens. He’s willing to learn.

“And I ride him more than I ride anyone else. Because he can take it.

“Some guys are teddy-bears. They can’t take coaching. They can’t take you being hard on them. They just kind of shrivel up. Whereas Metchie, I can tell him he’s terrible in this play or in this situation and he takes it the right way, as motivation.

“He vows to himself to never to let it happen again.

“I kept telling him last year: ‘Make sure your super-power shows up.’ You’ve going to have weaknesses, everyone does, but always, always, make sure your super-power is there when you need it.

“He’s made sure of that this year.

“You see the short-yardage stop against Winnipeg, against (Chris) Streveler. We see Streveler run people over all the time.

Well, when he hit Metchie, he hit the Great Wall. With a little assistance from Smitty. Bam! Just stood him up.

“Other guys are getting trucked by Streveler in the same situation. That shows his desire, his commitment.

“He’s improved every week in his knowledge, his command of the defence.

“There’s a way to go to get where he wants to be. But he wants to get there. Bad. This is a young man who wants to improve.

“Like I said, my Padawan. A little wisdom and you’ve got yourself a Jedi Master.”

Except the force isn’t with him, exactly.

More like IN him.