HBCU Game Time

HBCU GAMETIME: The King of Punting

Credit: AP Photo

The HBCU sports season is officially on, and as host of the national sports talk radio show, From the Press Box to Press Row, I cover all the action on the games that showcase our Historically Black Colleges and Universities. HBCU GameTime will provide a weekly rundown on what’s happening on the field, and occasionally other sports-related topics. Let’s play!

Donal Ware, HBCU GameTime

Donal Ware, HBCU GameTime

When former Boxtorow All-American punter Marquette King played at Fort Valley State University in Georgia, most of the punters (and kickers) were White.

Now that King is in the NFL, he has the distinction of being the only punter that’s a brother. As a matter of fact, in the history of the NFL, there have only been four Black punters.

The most notable is the now deceased Reggie Roby, who was selected All-Pro seven times and is a member of the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team.  For his career, Roby averaged 43.3 yards per punt.

But this isn’t about Black and White.  It’s about production.

After averaging 43 yards per punt as a senior at FVSU, King was signed to as a non-drafted free agent by the Oakland Raiders in 2012, eventually signing a three-year deal.  The Raiders, realizing his talent, put him on injured reserve after he suffered a foot injury in the preseason.

The Raiders already had a veteran punter in Shane Lechler, who is currently with the Houston Texans, the NFL’s all-time leader in career punting average (47.5).  They did not resign Lechler after the 2012 season, but brought in more competition for King, signing former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe who had recently been released.

On September 1, Kluwe was waived. King has paid dividends for the Raiders. During Monday Night Football last week, King averaged 52.5 yards per punt on six punts with a long of 66.  He is averaging 48.5 yards per punt, which is currently sixth in the league. He also has an added role as the holder for place kicker Sebastian Janikowski–one of the best to ever do it.

‘I came as a wide receiver’

King was recruited to Fort Valley State University out of Rutland High School in Macon, Georgia to play wide receiver.  He says he was a pretty good wide receiver and chose Division II FVSU because they would give him the opportunity to be successful in his studies and as a student-athlete.

He says punting was something he did in his “spare time” leading up to his senior year in high school. After his freshman season at FVSU, there was a coaching change that in essence changed his life forever.

“They found out I could punt and made me stay at punter or they were going to take my scholarship,” King chuckled.  “I was kind of forced to stay at punter.”

As a junior, King punted 54 times for 2,144, averaging 39.7 per punt and placed 17 punts inside the 20-yard line.  He had a breakout senior year punting 60 times for 2,582 yards (43.0 avg.), having 21 punts downed inside the 20-yard line on his way to All-American honors.

He really began to be noticed by NFL scouts during the combine portion of the HBCU Bowl, where during one practice, he booted a ball 77 yards and got great hang time on his punts.

During the game he booted an 80-yard punt. From there he was invited to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, which is mostly open to Division I players, where he had a chance to work with Super Bowl winning head coach Dick Vermeil.

‘He won the competition’

The Raiders brought Kluwe in after he was released by the Vikings.  After a fierce battle, on the final day of cuts, two punters – King and Kluwe – remained on the roster.  The Raiders were only going to keep one.

When the final cut was made in September, King’s name was part of the 53-man roster. “He out-punted him,” head coach Dennis Allen said of King.  “Marquette won the competition as the punter.”

King wants to be as great as perhaps the man who is most widely recognized as the greatest punter of all-time, Ray Guy.  Guy played 14 years in the league, was a First Team All-Pro selection six times and is part of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team.

During his career, Guy averaged 42.4 yards per punt.  In his first year, Guy averaged 45.3 yards per punt, which was his best average in any season.

King has a long way to go, but is off to a great start.

You can follow Donal Ware on Twitter @dware1 and @boxtorow.