By Ben Hanneman
SWT Sports Writer
Whirlwinds are normally scary.
But the one swirling around James King of late has the Pulaski Cougar senior defensive end all smiles these days.
You see, King, for as long as he can remember, has wanted to play Division I football; you know, run with the big horses, hit somebody in the mouth and then, like that line from NFL Films, “run up in the stands and slap they mommas!”
Okay, King would never do that last part. He’s way too polite and well-mannered for all that, off the field that is. On the field, after being named captain his final season and winning many, many football awards, well, you do the math.
The 6’4” 220-pound bundle of energy with a sizeable helping of confidence on the side has pretty much always dreamed of playing football at the next level. Eventually, he wants to play in the NFL. But first things first.
And after a series of events that would have lesser players spinning in amazement, King’s whirlwind has landed him in Lexington, where he’ll play for the Keydets at Virginia Military Institute.
“It’s a crazy process, man!” King said describing the whirlwind. He had just made the verbal commitment to VMI at a gathering with family, coaches and close friends in the PCHS locker room. “Some schools come in and you think they’re going to get you and then they just ease out over time. But VMI they stuck with me all the way through and I appreciate it. It’s a great opportunity.”
King officially signed his letter of intent Wednesday morning, all part of what college football fans, players, coaches and fans have come to revere as National Signing Day.
The early breezes, which would eventually land King not too far down the road, began blowing some two seasons ago, during the summer heading into his junior season to be exact. King remembers it because it was soon after the Cougars had defeated Salem, which may well be his favorite high school football memory.
“When we beat Salem that year knowing that we weren’t going to the playoffs, just the feeling of getting that last win of the season against a rival team was great! There’s nothing like it,” King said.’
Until now, maybe.
King then began receiving letters of interest from several regional colleges and universities. Duke came calling. So did Florida State, which was a thrill.
“Yeah, I was excited, man! I was happy. It made me want to work even harder to see what I could get,” King said.
But when they noticed at the college talent camps that King was a mere 6’4” and just a smidge over 200 pounds when starting defensive ends are at least two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier the Blue Devils and Seminoles backed away.
But not King. He kept working. He kept eating. He kept lifting. He kept eating. He kept working. Did we mention he kept eating? Protein bars and shakes, pasta, you name it, all to boost that weight. And he kept playing.
Then came University of Massachusetts and William & Mary, both offering King preferred walk-on status.
More recently Concord University in Athens, West Virginia, near Princeton expressed interest. So did University of Charleston and a bit of a bidding war ensued. They both wanted him so badly they each offered a half scholarship, but Dad Mike told them they’d have to come up with some more money.
When they got back from visiting Charleston, Concord called offering a full ride, some $80,000-plus covering books, tuition, housing, the whole nine yards.
Somewhere in the mix, VMI contacted King and offered a half scholarship. Then, the very day they were headed to Concord to check out the campus, VMI called King’s father Mike to offer a full football scholarship – approximately $96,00 – and almost begged him not to let James commit to Concord. They also swore Mike secrecy, especially with James.
King was actually in the Cougar weight room in the middle of workout last Monday when VMI’s defensive line coach Don Woods, brother of head coach Sparky Woods, arrived to personally inform him of their offer.
“I thought he was there to talk about the half scholarship, but when he said ‘full ride’ I couldn’t believe it!”
While the money is nice and will certainly help, King says he chose VMI for a different reason.
“I want to be an engineer and VMI was the only school with an engineering program,” he said.
King, who holds about a 3.6 GPA, anticipates a smooth transition from high school to the academic rigors and discipline of a military school.
“I’ve always been a hard worker. I’ve always gotten done what I needed to do in and outside of school. I believe that if I put all that in at VMI I’ll be successful,” he said.
Head Cougar Todd Jones, who coached King for three years, agreed, adding that King is the perfect example of the old adage that if you work hard good things will happen.
“James has never taken any shortcuts. He’s always gone all-out in everything he’s done on or off the field. He’s just always put the time in. That’s just James King,” Jones said.
On the field King intends to make a splash as well as soon as possible using the skills he’s developed while wearing the cardinal and Vegas gold.
“I’m quick off the ball and I’ve got speed and I’m starting to get a little bit more size on me, so after a few years up there I’m hoping to be an all-American and maybe go in the draft,” King said.
In terms of advice for teammates hoping to get where he is one day, King said, “Just keep working. Don’t give up and don’t listen to any negative comments people may give you. Get in the weight room. Lift weights and make sure you have good grades. If one of these schools comes knocking on your door for athletics and you don’t have the grades they’re going to take the next guy. So just keep the grades up and work hard in the weight room and on the field and you’ll get there.”
As for smaller players King advised against the laziness that can easily sneak into a high schooler’s life.
“You can’t go home and just lay around the couch and expect to get any better. You’ve got to go out there and do it. You’ve got to get what’s yours,” King said.
As for Pop, you’d be hard pressed to find a more proud father and rightly so.
“I’ve been hopping around like a giddy school girl going to the prom,” Mike King said. “I’m so proud of him, words can’t explain. He’s a great kid, probably the best son you’d ever want to have. He’s always worked hard at everything.”