Confidence. It seems to roll off of McKade Mettauer when he speaks, even when confined to a Zoom window.
It’s an easygoing, old-fashioned kind of confidence. A Babe Ruth, call-your-shots kind of confidence. Mettauer’s confidence is the kind that knows what he has done and what he wants to do. It’s confidence in where he’s from — The Woodlands, Texas — and where he is now — a starting right guard at Cal. It’s a confidence that comes from his family, the people who have supported him and made him who he is today.
It’s not rude. It’s not a get-in-your-face type of braggadocio — unless he’s on the offensive line, in which case being in someone’s face is part of the occupation. It simply means that Mettauer is enjoying himself.
It’s a joking, humorous conviction that can make fun and be made fun of in equal parts.
“He’s goofy,” says senior right tackle and fellow offensive lineman Jake Curhan. “He’s always making jokes and poking fun at people. He dishes it and takes it too.”
That confidence is nothing new — in fact, during his freshman year of high school, Mettauer was almost too confident.
The Woodlands High School is massive; nearly 4,500 students make themselves at home on the campus on the outskirts of Houston. The Woodlands’ football program reflects its student body and is suitably large, fielding a whopping four freshman and four junior varsity teams.
None of that mattered to high school freshman Mettauer — numbers were just numbers. He began asking to move on up to the varsity squad right after he joined the team, questions that had an almost irritating effect.
“I got in trouble for that sometimes,” the sophomore right guard said. “I’d go up to my coach and be like, ‘Hey, when are you going to put me on JV?’ or ‘When am I going to be on varsity?’ ”
His coaches would tell him to simmer down and worry about freshman football, but his persistence paid off, and Mettauer proved, as he would do throughout his career, that his confidence and that which was placed in him were justified. It took just one moment for Jim Rapp, then-offensive line coach and eventual head coach at The Woodlands, to identify Mettauer’s talent.
“The first time he put his hand on me, I knew he was different,” said Rapp, who, as offensive line coach, would participate in drills with his players whenever there was an odd man out. “When McKade puts his hands on you, it feels like a 45-pound weight touching you. He wasn’t trying to punch me or anything like that; he just has heavy hands. … I knew, then, that he was going to be special.”
Over the next four seasons, Mettauer more than earned his place on the offensive line, becoming a standout player on a high school football team that made several deep runs into the state tournament.
Mettauer became just one of four freshmen in The Woodlands High’s history to ever make the varsity football team, but he’s not even the only Mettauer to claim that accomplishment. This season, his younger brother, Mabrey, made a name for himself at the quarterback position as a ninth grader.
Both Mettauer and now his brother have had a chance to play with their cousins, who are also offensive linemen for The Woodlands. It’s a fact that the brothers’ mother, Marissa, is intensely proud of. Hers is a football family though and through.
“It’s pretty exciting; we live for it around here,” she said. “There’s always been a college ball in their lives. They just always had the drive and the want to do that.”
Those accomplishments have built confidence and were built by Mettauer’s confidence in himself. But more than anything, they’re built on a sturdy foundation. Like steel rods sunk deeply into cement, Mettauer’s work ethic, focus and drive are all tied, in one way or another, to his family.
It all starts in Texas.
Whether it’s where he’s from or who he is, all roads and tangents seem to wind back to Mettauer’s home and family ranch just outside of Houston. It’s where his family congregates and where he spends time on the weekends — if he’s not in Berkeley, that is — and it’s easy to see why.
“You get out there, and it’s wide open, dirt roads,” Mettauer said when recalling Texas and his home. “You get out there, and the only thing you have to avoid is a daggum cow.”
Mettauer is confident in where he’s from, in getting up at 3 a.m. to go hunting, in long days out fishing and in rattling around the lake in boats of all shapes and sizes. The sophomore’s sense of home is something he shares easily and willingly, whether that’s talking about duck hunting with his teammates before the Oregon game, showing his girlfriend from California the herds that graze on his family’s ranch or telling a reporter about frog gigging. Mettauer’s love of where he comes from is always on display, even after he’s moved halfway across the country to attend college.
Home would be nothing, however, without his family — his foundation. For Mettauer, home means family, and it is a group that is truly inseparable, despite the ever-growing size of the Mettauer and Tucker clans that make it up.
As a rule, any family gathering must be a large one. Whether it’s going out to eat or heading on vacation, it’s not complete unless everyone is involved, and Mettauer means everyone.
“The family dynamic is definitely tight. Anytime we go to a restaurant, … it would be, ‘We need a table for 18, please,’ ” Mettauer said. “It’s kind of a stressful situation, needing to accommodate that many people, but at the same time, you wouldn’t want to do it without them.”
They do nearly everything together: gathering at their grandmother’s on weekends, driving the smallest cousins around the lake in a motorboat and even playing football. Mettauer’s family members are his biggest fans, and he, in turn, is their biggest fan. If his parents and brother aren’t journeying to Memorial Stadium in Berkeley to see games live, then they’re hosting watch parties filled with friends and family at their own home.
They do more than support, though. Mettauer, his brother and his cousins learn from the former collegiate and professional football players in their family. They learned the ins and outs of football from Mettauer’s uncle Rex Tucker, who played in the NFL and was one of four relatives, including Mettauer’s grandfather, to play for Texas A&M.
Mettauer’s path led to a different place, though. After finishing his high school career and graduating from The Woodlands High, he moved west to play at Cal.
“Never in a million years did I think my kid would be that far from home,” his mother said. “But all of the best opportunities were away from home, and you just have to trust the plan.”
It was both a new opportunity and a change of pace. The family is close in the literal and metaphorical sense. Tuckers and Mettauers live no more than 30 minutes from one another. Not only was Mettauer the first in his family to go to college outside Texas, but he was the first to go somewhere besides Texas A&M.
Berkeley was different.
Mettauer had to adjust to more challenging levels of football and academics as well as an entirely new place. That meant learning to ride a moped, navigating a city for the first time and attending office hours. Amid a year full of firsts, Mettauer moved into the starting lineup for the Bears.
On a Friday night at Husky Stadium, Mettauer made his debut for the blue and gold. It was a nerve-wracking moment for the then-freshman from The Woodlands.
“College was a different animal,” Mettauer said. “If you lose a rep, it’s going to be on TV. … I threw up before games all the time last year. I was in the bathroom, pregame, full pads on, trying to throw up my breakfast.”
But after a Chipotle trip and plenty of advice and support from veteran offensive linemen Curhan and Michael Saffell, who played next to Mettauer on the offensive line, he performed in Cal’s upset win over No. 14 Washington. A week later, he did it again when the blue and gold hosted North Texas. The nervousness faded away, replaced by the confidence in his ability. Ultimately, football was what Mettauer had left home for.
“When I started playing a lot, it helped me settle in and ground myself, and it gave me something to work for,” Mettauer said. “You worked your whole life to have that nervousness. It’s like, ‘Why are you nervous? You wanted this. You asked for this. If you didn’t want it, you wouldn’t have worked that hard.’ ”
Since then, Mettauer has only banished that nervousness further. He’s “gotten a lot better and will continue to do so,” according to Curhan, who has watched him develop over the past two seasons. It’s a process that culminated during the Bears’ trip to Oregon State, where Mettauer was, for vast spells of the game, the only first-string offensive lineman on the field.
“It was a cool experience. I went from being the young guy to being the old guy,” said Mettauer, who has enjoyed stepping in as a leader when needed. “I had a good time guiding them through it.”
In his first two years in the East Bay, the Cal lineman has matured, a change noted by almost everyone around him. He’s challenged himself academically and kept up. Living in a new place created its own challenges, but it also allowed him to experience two radically different cultures — Berkeley, California, and The Woodlands, Texas — and understand the perspectives of the people living there.
“I’ll be driving through San Francisco in my truck, and I’ll think, ‘I’m really driving through San Francisco right now.’ I’m becoming more mature, way more self-reliant,” Mettauer said. “It’s very diverse; it’s nice. I get to meet people with different political views, and we bounce ideas off each other.”
He’s the first in his family to attend college out of state, but his mother harbors no doubt when it comes to her son’s time at UC Berkeley. Instead, she’s proud of what he’s learned and how he’s changed.
“I hate him being so far away, but I trust God’s plan and the process,” she said. “Being away from home really forced him to grow into a man. Being without family, you can’t have a crutch, so you just have to do it. It’s making him who he’s supposed to be.”
Now, Mettauer and his family are committed Bears.
Despite that maturation, Mettauer’s center is still wherever his family is. He has personal goals, sure — to get a degree, improve as a football player and make it to the NFL — but those dreams are defined by his family.
Mettauer still puts his family first in everything he does.
During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, he and his brother, a budding quarterback, were quarantined with their family in Texas. His brother’s desire to practice led him to the only other football player in the household, so Mettauer brought out the wide receiver gloves and ran routes at 5:30 a.m.
“Usually I would think no lineman really wants to run routes for an hour and a half a day because we were doing it Monday through Friday. … It was really fun,” his brother said. “His footwork is really good. He’s pretty fast too.”
Mettauer’s family is also his motivation. As the oldest boy in his family, he is driven to work hard and show his brother what success looks like. He credits his older sister — “a stud basketball player” and a “savage,” in his words — for doing the same. Marxli Mettauer showed her younger brothers what hard work looks like and how to give something your all.
Mettauer enjoys his role, though. He laughs at the nickname his brother has given him — “Pops” — but he also works hard to be a role model and a leader. His family is both what has put him where he is and his drive to keep going.
“I don’t want to be cheesy and be like, ‘Oh, my family means everything,’ ” Mettauer explains, looking away from the Zoom window and squinting before leaning back in his seat. “They’re the foundation. I don’t think I’d be anywhere if I had any piece of my family missing. Everyone has played a role in shaping me and helping me become who I am in football and who I am in life. … Everyone has collectively played a massive part in me.”
At the end of our interview, he laughs and brings his hands together. “And therefore, yes, family is everything.”
Jasper Kenzo Sundeen covers football. Contact him at [email protected].