Eric King opened the door to his car after a practice at Old Mill High School for tomorrow's Super 44 high school all-star football game and grinned, making it hard to tell whether the words that followed were a serious challenge or a playful joke.
"I'll race you home," the All-Metro cornerback said, with his grin still spread wide.
On the off-chance his driving is anything like his on-field play, there is good reason you should automatically decline.
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound McDonogh graduate runs a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, bench-presses 270 pounds and compensates for his size disadvantage with a craving for solid, brutal contact.
"I love it," said King, who will represent the Maryland All-Stars against the Virginia All-Stars at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax. "I think if I could, the position that I would really love to play would be linebacker. That's my mind-set."
This past season, King, who will spend next year at Hill School Prep in Pottstown, Pa., before enrolling at Wake Forest in 2001 on a full athletic scholarship, set his mind on helping the Eagles win their third straight Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference championship. He returned two of his five interceptions for touchdowns, recorded 45 tackles, blocked three punts and recovered two fumbles. King also rushed for five scores and caught eight more.
In the title game against St. Paul's, King carried the Eagles on his back and the ball in his arms 17 times for 96 yards - nearly all of them in the second half - and two touchdowns. McDonogh won, 14-3.
"He's just a big-play kid," McDonogh coach Dom Damico said. "He has incredible raw athletic ability, excellent quickness, strength and aggressiveness. He's probably the quickest player I've ever coached."
A score of Division I programs recognized those qualities in King as well, and by the end of the 1999 season, schools such as Virginia Tech, Maryland, Temple, James Madison and Wake Forest were recruiting him as a cornerback.
However, the B-average student did not have the minimum SAT score to play Division I football. King took the test again in late January, but as the signing period for recruits came and went in early February, King found himself out in the cold.
A couple weeks later, he got his SAT score back - 930, good enough to make him academically eligible to play his freshman year.
As word of his score spread, many programs that had shied away from him reappeared. But with all of their scholarships given away, they could only offer King full rides for the 2001 season. Several I-AA schools had money left for 2000, but King knew what he wanted to do.
He would enroll at Hill School, save a year of college eligibility and join the Deacons in 2001.
"There was a possibility that I was going to wait it out at Hill School and just smash - get like 2,000 yards rushing, 10 interceptions and get recruited by a Big Ten school," said King, who would have garnered more national attention had he not missed his entire junior season with a shoulder injury, "but I kind of didn't want to do that. I liked Wake Forest the best."
King picked the Demon Deacons, he said, because he liked the academic environment and he knew he could come in and have a shot at substantial playing time.
King, the starting point guard on McDonogh's basketball team the past two years, said he has been encouraged by his conversations with Wake Forest coach Jim Caldwell, who said a starting role is a possibility for his freshman year.
"Because I'm going to have that extra year under my belt, he feels as though I can come in and be a key nickel guy maybe and have a chance for a position," King said, adding he could see time at slot, though not at halfback because he lacks the size.
This week, King has been focused on the Super 44, which will give him the chance to showcase and test his talent.
"I want to be able to shut down any receiver from Virginia's team that's going to be set across from me," he said. "It's going to give me a taste of what college is going to be like."