Nigel King sat alone on a workout bench inside Gossett Team House, watching and waiting while reporters engulfed his teammates. To King’s immediate right, Shawn Petty fielded questions about his surreal four-game tenure as Maryland’s quarterback, and about transitioning back to linebacker. The last time King spoke with reporters, the team’s quarterbacking absurdity had climaxed. Devin Burns and Caleb Rowe had suffered season-ending injuries, opening the door for Petty’s ascension atop the depth chart.
Around that same time, King quietly replaced Marcus Leak (broken toe) in the starting lineup, a position he held for the remainder of 2012 alongside Stefon Diggs and Kevin Dorsey. And with Leak still recovering during spring practices, King is hoping to make a little more noise with the starters.
“It’s a big opportunity, but at the same time I have to focus on myself and not worry about anyone else,” he said Tuesday.
King’s collegiate career began with a tumultuous and uncertain true freshman season, when an NCAA clearinghouse ruling forced him away from practice, lifting and team bonding for the spring. He redshirted that fall, and didn’t record a reception over the first six games of last season. Over that span, King’s most noteworthy contribution was a recruiting pitch to childhood friend Dez Wells.
Leak, meanwhile, was stellar before breaking his toe, and despite missing five games he still finished the season as Maryland’s second-leading receiver (23 receptions, 393 yards, two touchdowns). There’s no definitive timetable on his return, but Leak should reinsert himself into the starting lineup upon full recovery.
Unless King impresses in the interim. He had his first career touchdown catch at Boston College and closed the season strong with a four-reception, 72-yard effort at North Carolina, including an acrobatic one-handed catch. The rising sophomore displayed similar athleticism during Tuesday’s spring practice, twice beating starting cornerback Dexter McDougle during one-on-one drills with the quarterbacks. He also hauled in an impressive leaping grab in traffic from Ricardo Young on the first series.
“I think the biggest thing with Nigel is confidence,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “That was the biggest thing, and that North Carolina game gave him a lot of confidence last year. You see him out there and how he’s carrying himself and handling himself on the field, it’s a big difference from a year ago. It’s just amazing what just a couple things will do to help a guy like that along. It’s good to see because he does have the ability, and now what I think will happen is he’ll continue to work really hard to achieve a level of productivity that his god-given ability will allow him to have.”
King says a full offseason gave him greater comfort within Edsall’s program. He’s worked on his physicality, coming off the line faster and knowing his assignments. On a starting unit with Diggs and transfer Deon Long, both bathing in offseason hype, King can lay low, the mild-manner third wheel in a talented starting group he called “one of the best receiving corps in the ACC.”
King still watches film and lifts with Diggs, Long and the other receivers, but the individual expectations aren’t as gaudy, even if November served as a personal springboard into March.
“It was basically what I needed,” King said. “The games I played earlier in the season, I feel like I didn’t make any big plays. Me making those big plays helped me do what I’m doing now.”
Note: Former Maryland defensive lineman Joe Vellano and 2013 signee Yannick Ngakoue (Friendship Academy) will both be honored by the DC Touchdown Club at its annual awards dinner Friday night. Vellano was named the local college player of the year, while the all-American linebacker Ngakoue was named the District high school player of the year.
Information for the banquet, which begins at 6:30 p.m. with a cocktail reception, is here.