Kevin King first signed up to play football as a sixth grader.
He played for the East Bay Warriors, a popular Pop Warner team in his hometown of Oakland. And he played cornerback.
He played corner, too, in high school at Bishop O’Dowd, and he played it well enough to earn scholarship offers from a handful of Pac-12 schools.
King chose Washington, but, as he found out on the first day of Huskies preseason camp in 2013, the Huskies didn’t want him to play corner. He was told during a morning meeting that he would play safety.
Never miss a local story.
“That’s what they needed me as,” King, now a junior, said after UW’s Tuesday practice at Husky Stadium. “And for the team, I was happy to do it.”
He did it for the first two seasons of his college career, a stint that included 12 starts as a 6-foot-3, 183-pound sophomore in 2014, a season in which he totaled 65 tackles, four passes defended and an interception.
But that detour, however successful, is over for now. After sitting out the spring due to injury, King is back at cornerback for the first time since his senior season of high school.
“He was brought here to be a corner,” second-year defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said. “I think in his mind, he wanted to play corner, and a lot of times if that’s what’s at the front of your mind, you’re going to probably play that position a lot better. We put him through some drills and did a few things and we were like, ‘Yeah, this guy can play corner.’ He’s shown it right here.”
Regardless of his general familiarity with the position, though, the switch means King has to earn his starting spot all over again. Sophomore Sidney Jones started 12 games at corner last season and appears almost certain to start there again. Darren Gardenhire, another sophomore, emerged as a standout in spring and is currently occupying the other corner position with the first-team defense during 11-on-11 periods.
But it’s still early, and King’s experience and athleticism could allow him to make up for lost time in a hurry. He’s the tallest defensive back on the Huskies’ roster, and he possesses the kind of wingspan that is becoming increasingly sought after among cornerbacks.
“I know my advantages,” King said. “I’m long. I can get my hands on receivers. I can use that to my advantage when I’m playing. … I definitely feel like that’s a plus for me.”
Said sophomore safety Budda Baker, who started alongside King last season on the back end of UW’s defense: “I think it was a good decision. He’s real tall. He’s lengthy. Not a lot of receivers are going to be able to get around him, due to his arm span and all that type of stuff, and he’s definitely fast.”
King has mostly worked with the second-team defense so far, though he did haul in one of the more impressive interceptions of camp so far, tracking and snagging a Jake Browning pass intended for Marvin Hall along the left sideline during Sunday’s practice.
Lake acknowledged that King’s versatility is an asset – it seems he’d be an interesting option as a nickel back – but made it clear that he considers him a full-time cornerback.
“It helps us obviously down the line if something happens, (if) we get a little light at a position, we know he can transition over and play different positions,” Lake said. “But right now, it is full-time. He’s (a) full-time corner and he’s looked really good the last couple days.”
Playing safety taught him to embrace the game’s mental side, King said, and he might now be a better corner because of it.
“It’s a little less to think about,” he said. “Safety, you’re the quarterback back there. You’re telling everybody what to do. Corner, that’s mano-a-mano — athletic ability vs. the man in front of you. That’s all about competition. I’m a competitor. That’s what I do. That’s how my parents raised me. So that kind of competition, play after play after play, that’s what fuels me.”