Derek King is determined to pick a school, not just a football program.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound athlete from Brentwood Academy has some academic heavyweights on his list of schools that have offered him a scholarship, such as Duke, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest.
Then, there are the schools that prove his football merit, such as Tennessee, Auburn, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Virginia, Kansas and Louisville, which are joined by Memphis, Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State.
King, who wants to major in sports medicine, has 13 scholarship offers in all, an amount surely bolstered by his 3.5 grade-point average.
Thank King’s parents for that. They value GPA as much as yards per carry.
“They have always wanted me to do well so they constantly tell me I need to have my schoolwork done, then I’m able to play football,” said King, who was selected as the fifth-best prospect in the state by the News Sentinel. “I’ve always kept that in mind. That’s what pushed me to do so well in my schoolwork.”
King admitted that SEC schools have a slight lead in the race for his services and that he would prefer to play in what he considers the best football conference in the nation.
That puts UT, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt atop the list.
King, who visited Knoxville last weekend, said the coaches have stood out most as he evaluates UT.
“I met (UT) coach (Derek) Dooley,” King said. “He’s a real cool guy. He told me that he was going to turn the program around. … It would be pretty cool to play at a school like Tennessee.”
But it would also be pretty cool to play close to home.
“Vanderbilt is 20 minutes away,” King said. “When a school is right by your home, you always have to keep that in consideration. And they have probably the best school in the SEC — if not the country — academics wise.”
King has also been drawn to Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson, who has made recruiting King a priority.
“Coach Johnson, he’s a really cool guy,” King said. “He seems like he really cares about his players.”
Still, there are even deeper ties to another school. King’s parents attended Ole Miss and the Kings still have family in the state.
“If I was to go to Ole Miss, knowing my grandparents don’t live too far away, that would be a consideration,” King said.
King also sees Ole Miss as a program on the rise thanks to two consecutive Cotton Bowl appearances, which makes one wonder if the Rebels are the quiet leader.
Most schools are recruiting King as a defensive back, but tailback hasn’t been ruled out. UT is recruiting King as a defensive back and kick returner.
King said he doesn’t have a position preference just yet, but likely will before he commits this fall.
King describes himself as an explosive runner that can also excel as a receiver.
He carried 58 times last season for 700 yards and eight touchdowns. He also had eight kick returns for 230 yards, along with 45 tackles and an interception.
That season has helped launch him into one of the most sought after prospects in Tennessee.
“It’s been a wonderful process to go through,” King said. “It’s good to have the opportunity that I have. As a kid you dream about playing college football.
“For it be here, is just a blessing for it happen.”