Charlie Coiner on the benefits of learning multiple positions
When Greg King was in middle school back in Memphis he was beaten up for refusing to join a gang.
An elbow was damaged enough to require surgery that included insertion of a plate, rod and screws.
King's chief concern: Can I still play football?
It's a question he's had to ask over and over during his career as a linebacker at Tennessee.
Despite an assortment of injuries and surgeries to knees and elbows — plus a concussion — the answer is still yes.
"How do I feel?'' King said this week. "I'm ready to roll. Rock and roll.''
King is a redshirt junior still hoping to stay healthy enough to fulfill the promise he held as a 2009 recruit. He's one of the few left from former coach Lane Kiffin's only signing class.
King appeared in nine games as a true freshman, starting two. It would have been more but he chipped a bone in his elbow against Vanderbilt, his second start, and was prematurely done for the season.
In the two years since, he's played in only five games.
Four of them were in 2010 before he underwent season-ending knee surgery in October.
In 2011 he got in one game, Florida, on special teams. The good news was
that he was able to qualify for a redshirt.
Frustration? You bet.
"But that's part of football,'' King said. "You tend to get up and down but you've just got to keep moving.''
When the Vols scrimmaged last Friday, King was moving. He was credited with a team-high seven total tackles, four of them unassisted.
"Greg is doing a lot better,'' said coach Derek Dooley.
"Greg's biggest issue is I don't know if he's practiced more than a week at a time since I've been here in two years.''
Besides the season-ending injuries, there has been an assortment of other dings that have kept King from sustaining any momentum.
"I kept practicing,'' he said. "I'm not trying to give no excuses.
"But sometimes your body don't tend to give as much. You break down. I'm like a rusty chain.''
King laughed at his analogy. Laughter comes a little easier now that he's feeling sound enough to go full speed.
Listed at 238 pounds, he has spent time both inside and outside in the new 3-4 defensive front being installed by new coordinator and linebacker coach Sal Sunseri.
"Love him, great coach,'' King said of Sunseri. "He's a coach that knows how to be a coach and can be a good friend at the same time.''
Dooley likes King's size and power and his positive attitude.
Coming out of Memphis Melrose, King was rated the No. 31 inside linebacker prospect by Rivals.com. He had offers from Miami, Auburn and Alabama, among others.
King justified the hype, recording 24 tackles as a true freshman in 2009 and had a timely interception against South Carolina.
It just seems so long ago.
"We've just got to keep him on the field,'' Dooley said.
"I will reserve judgment until we go through a spring without him getting hurt.''