If all had gone as originally planned, Nigel King would now be preparing for a college future as an LSU wide receiver.
King, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior from Wakefield High in Raleigh, N.C., was all set to end his recruitment four months ago. King visited Baton Rouge for LSU's regular-season finale against Arkansas, and soon after, he was ready to offer his commitment -- until Tigers wide receivers coach D.J. McCarthy resigned.
"[The commitment] didn't happen because of the coaching staff change with Coach McCarthy," King said. "After that, it just fell apart. So I just went and looked at other schools."
Suddenly, programs like Colorado, East Carolina, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State and South Carolina all had another shot at landing King, one of the Top 250 juniors in the country according to Rivals.com.
The major beneficiary of King's non-commitment proved to be Maryland. One week ago King -- fresh off a visit to College Park -- pledged to the Terps.
"I mean it's Maryland. I like where it is," King said. "The coaching staff is amazing. They stayed with me through the whole recruiting process. When I was getting ready to commit to another school, they stayed with me. I think I have a good chance to come and play early. I liked everything about it and know I can have a good career at Maryland, so that's a good thing."As a junior, King missed six games with a hip injury but still managed to catch 12 touchdown passes and rack up around 900 receiving yards. He helped Wakefield to a 7-5 record and a berth in the North Carolina state playoffs.
Even before his junior season, King was a well-known commodity on the football recruiting circuit. He had shined at several camps and combines, emerging early on as a major BCS-level recruit. LSU was an early favorite, but not everyone around King was sold on it being the best fit.
"Even when he was thinking early on about LSU and the SEC, you could tell there was a problem," said Charles Johnson, Wakefield's wide receivers coach. "I think it was all about the name, but it was not a good fit for him. [People thought], 'Oh my God, LSU offered you a scholarship.' But you can tell it wouldn't have been a good choice for him. For the process, I let him find out for himself. I just made sure I walked him through it."
When Johnson speaks on college football and recruiting, he does so with unquestionable authority. At 6 feet, 200 pounds, Johnson was a big-time recruit who ended up at Colorado and had a standout career for the Buffaloes. The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Johnson with the 17th overall pick in the 1994 NFL draft. From there, he embarked on a nine-year NFL career before moving on to coaching.
King said Johnson never deterred him from attending a school. Rather, he served as a sounding board and pointed out aspects King should look for and prioritize in choosing a program. For Johnson, Maryland always fit that criteria.
"I just looked at the moves they're making," Johnson said. "They have a solid foundation. I thought they were trying to build something. I had a nice conversation with [Terps tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Charles] Bankins. It was really nice, no pressure or anything. If Nigel was my son, I would have no problem sending my son to Coach Bankins and the University of Maryland. I know he'll be taken care of. Forget about the [2-10] record and what has happened. It's my feeling that Nigel is going to be taken care of. That's the feeling I've got. And I just went with my gut feeling. When there were rumors about him going to LSU, Maryland never wavered. [They said], 'We're still here and until he says he's going there, we're still recruiting him.' I just like that they were really open and just patient. That's what stood out."
Johnson said King's strength and size could lead to early playing time. Johnson told King that he'll undoubtedly make gains in the weight room once he arrives at Maryland, but he's already in good shape from a strength and conditioning standpoint.
"He's already strong," Johnson said. "Going against the typical high school cornerbacks, he's gonna push them around real easy. He's very strong at the line and gets off the ball, which is very important. He has a knack for making the big plays. He's very aggressive around the ball. All you have to do is give him the option. If he's covered and you throw it at his chest or down low, that shorter guy has an opportunity just as much as Nigel does [to catch it]. But if you throw it in the air, I'll take my chances with Nigel every day of the week and twice on Sunday that he's going to come down with it. Plus, he can take a hit. And Nigel can take it to the house. He's a game changer."
It's been a week since King committed to Maryland, and he said it still feels like a relief to have made his choice. While King never planned on prolonging his recruitment into senior year, he is happy that his commitment came in April instead of December.
"I was just glad I waited," King said. "It was kind of too soon to make a decision. I'm really glad I waited and took a trip up to Maryland, because if I didn't take that trip, I wouldn't have felt this way. I'm just glad I waited. ... But it's good timing and I'm very happy. It's a good choice and I'm very happy where I am now."