By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
Will King watched football from the bleachers last season, itching for a return to his love of coaching.
King, a member of the Marshall Athletic Hall of Fame, and a past assistant coach at Concord, is the new defensive coordinator at Bluefield College. He replaces Stacey Hairston, who left after two seasons to become the head coach at Wilmington College in Ohio.
Bluefield head coach Mike Gravier and King worked together at Concord, and when Gravier needed a replacement for Hairston, he sent a text message to his first choice.
“He is a great with the kids, he is a demanding, but patient. He is a good mentor for kids, obviously he knows football very well,” Gravier said. “He was a standout player at Marshall and did very well there and he has had a very good coaching career and he has coached at some tough places.”
A native of Charleston, King most recently served as an assistant at FCS Dela-ware State, but didn’t coach last season, staying home with his family in Princeton and doing contract work for the Department of Health and Human Resources.
“I did miss it, just watching from afar, you kind of had a different perspective from watching it,” King said. “It gave me a real different appreciation.”
King, who played at Marshall from 1990-93, was the all-time leading tackler for the Thundering Herd — and is still fourth on that list — with 443 stops in just three seasons as a linebacker and safety.
He played for such coaches as Jim Donnan and Mickey Matthews, both of whom influenced the 41-year-old King’s choice of careers.
“Those guys had a huge impact on me as a young man growing into a man, more so than football. Football is just natural, I have been doing it since I was probably 8 years old,” King said. “I think it was the life lessons that were learned through the game and from those coaches, they being men and being husbands and heads of households and fathers.
“I learned a lot, not just from what they actually taught, but just watching and observing them and how they did things and how they conducted their lives.”
King played one season for the Baltimore Stallions of the Canadian Football League, and then went into coaching at James Madison, five seasons as defensive coordinator at West Virginia State, one year as defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator at Concord and two years ago as a defensive backs mentor at Delaware State.
“When we are not stopping people I will be the one they will be writing bad about, but that is part of it, it comes with the territory,” said King, of his role with the Rams. “At the end of the day, yeah, you want to win and lose, but are you winning in these guys’ lives?
“Are they graduating? Are they good people? Are they productive citizens? That is what you try to teach more so than anything else.”
Gravier had originally offered the position to King, but went with Hairston after King was already committed to Delaware State. Yet, after one season with the Hornets, King felt the pull to return to Princeton, where his McDowell County-raised wife, Paula, and 2-year-old daughter Micah remained.
“I guess I appreciate it even more having to step away from it,” King said. “I prayed about it, my whole family has sacrificed for me so I figured it is probably my turn to sacrifice.
“I figured if it was meant for me to be coaching then the good Lord will give it back to me where it will be perfect, where we don’t have to move, where it just fits and sure enough...”
When Hairston made his move, Gravier did the same, contacting King, who wasted little time accepting the position.
“I was telling my wife and we started laughing. I was like, it is nothing but God, I think He knew this is what I would rather be doing,” King said. “I think when you sacrifice for the right reasons and your family and you take yourself out of the equation and put other people first for the right reasons, I think it comes back to you eventually in the end and it worked out...
“I didn’t have to move, and to work for a guy like Coach Gravier. You won’t find a better person or a better man that understands family and then has the passion for the kids and to find somebody who has a lot of the same beliefs and sees this thing the same way.”
King compares what he did working with the ‘less fortunate’ at the DHHR with his role as a football coach.
“It was a great fit, you were able to help people,” said King, whose coaching friend, Mike Scott, is driving back and forth from Charleston to help with the Rams on a volunteer basis. “I have a great passion for helping people because I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for people helping me along the way...
“It was a great time doing it, but football is a lot of the same thing, it is helping people. You have a chance to impact the lives of these young people, but it is just through a different avenue, football is the vehicle now more so than social services.”
King now returns to his love of football, which not only allowed him to become an All-America and Hall of Famer at Marshall, but he also played in three Division 1-AA national championship games, winning it all in 1992.
“It is a chance now to get back in the lives of these young people just in the game of football, which has been great to me,” said King, who is still high in the record books at Marshall in numerous categories. “I have got to travel and go places that I never thought I would see growing up and get a chance to provide for my family.
“Again, most importantly, I think it has been a chance to help change and save lives, that is probably the most rewarding part of it all.”
King attended games and practices on occasion last season at Bluefield, the Rams’ first in 71 years, which ended with an 0-11 record. King did, however, see plenty of positives from a team comprised mostly of students just a few months out of high school.
“I was truly impressed with what they put out there,” said King, who added that Hairston did a ‘great’ job for the Rams on the defensive side of the ball. “In games you could see teams would really have to play to really put Bluefield College away because these kids played hard.
“They have some talent and I just think a lot of the inexperience would show up at probably not the right time and the youth kind of cost them some games. They fought, they were competitive.
“They had talent out there, they were organized, they played together and it is a lot to build on and I will just try not to screw things up.”
King is in the process of meeting players and recruiting more, all with an eye toward helping bring success to Bluefield College football.
“We will have a chance to pick up where Coach Hairston left off and have some fun and win some ball games,” King said. “I think the sky is the limit for us, we can’t go anywhere but up and we have a chance here to be first at a lot of things.
“We have a chance to make history in a lot of ways because what we do will set the precedent of Bluefield College football.
“As a program it is a very, very exciting time.”
— Contact Brian Woodson