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Miami's D'Eriq King Wants to Be the Next QB to Prove Size Doesn't Matter

D’Eriq King has led the Miami Hurricanes to their highest ranking in three years ahead of a Saturday clash with No. 1 Clemson that gives the 5’10” King a chance to measure himself against Trevor Lawrence.In the middle of the College Football Playoff championship game last January, when transfer quarterback Joe Burrow was leading LSU to the national title, D’Eriq King put himself on the market to make his own transition. The quarterback entered the transfer portal and tweeted his intent to leave Houston for a Power 5 program. Time was of the essence. King had agonized over the decision to leave his hometown school and his family, and by the time he entered the portal he left himself with just a few days to make a decision and enroll for the winter semester at his new school. Several programs expressed interest, but Miami showed the greatest urgency. The Hurricanes coaching staff reached out and asked King to visit Coral Gables that weekend. Their pitch wasn’t suited to a home visit or a phone call—and that had nothing to do with showing off the glamour of South Beach at a time when most of the country was shivering.“I really wanted him to see who we were in person,” coach Manny Diaz said. “I wanted him to watch our players go through a workout, see that we were serious about winning down here. We really have a culture that is intact but just needed a leader at the quarterback position to make that shine, make that come out. I think there’s always a perception of who Miami is on the outside versus who Miami is on the inside.”On the inside? Diaz, his coaches and players came off a dismal 6-7 season in 2019 with a renewed commitment to restoring The U as a football power. That meant dispelling an external reputation of being more interested in having a good time than playing good football.Miami Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz runs out of the tunnel before the second half of a game against the Virginia Cavaliers on Oct. 11, 2019.“Being outside the program, you hear a lot of guys say all the Miami guys do is party,” King said. “You hear they’re late to workouts, missed this, missed that. When I got there and watched them work out, I didn’t see any of that.“I mean, it’s Miami—it’s one of the great cities in the world. But I didn’t want to see the city or the beach as much as I wanted to meet the guys and see the tape.”Thus a match was made in Miami. A city rife with distractions became the site of a shotgun winter marriage of two hyper-focused parties. A quarterback serious about showing he can be a Power 5 star (and NFL prospect) meshed with a program serious about making a comeback. The results to date speak for themselves: the Hurricanes are an impressive 3-0 and at No. 7 in the polls have their highest ranking in three years. King is in the top 15 nationally in total offense (297.7 yards per game) and pass efficiency (a 153.85 rating) while leading the No. 7 scoring offense in the country.Now comes the big yardstick game. On Saturday, Miami will visit No. 1 Clemson, the Atlantic Coast Conference kingpin that has won 22 straight league games. Not only will this showdown take the measure of the Hurricanes as a program, but it will give King a chance to measure up against the gold standard of college quarterbacking in Trevor Lawrence.Lawrence is the NFL prototype, standing 6’6″ and possessing an arm that makes scouts’ pulses pound. The 5’10” (at best) King has spent most of his career fighting the criticism that he was too small to play quarterback: he was once the eighth-string QB at Manvel High School; he was recruited by Baylor and others as a defensive back, even though he never played that position; he was shuffled out to wide receiver and kick returner for a while at Houston. If he can be King for a day in Death Valley? If the Hurricanes can score a seismic upset? Then the U-turn at The U is really on.D’ Eriq King runs the ball against the Louisville Cardinals on Sept. 19, 2020.Keshon King will be in Clemson Saturday. Of course he will. He hasn’t missed one of his little brother’s 38 college football games, and that sure isn’t going to change now that D’Eriq has reached the biggest stage yet.When he was a student at Sam Houston State, Keshon drove two hours home on Fridays to watch D’Eriq play high school ball. That tradition continued when D’Eriq suited up for the Houston Cougars. This season Keshon has made two trips to Miami, one to Louisville, and now there will be one to the Upstate region of South Carolina. It’s even more important for Keshon to be there this year despite D’Eriq’s distance from Houston. Because their father cannot be there.Eric King died of a heart attack at age 48 in February, not long after his youngest child moved to Miami. That compounded the angst of being away from home for D’Eriq, leading Keshon to spend a couple of winter weeks after the funeral in Coral Gables to help D’Eriq cope. “Dad was the one who always talked football with us,” Keshon said. “I can fulfill that role with him.”A former player himself, Eric had coached both his sons. He and Cassandra King raised all four of their children (Calandria and Erica are the girls) in a sports-loving, competitive household.“The only person who can stop you is yourself,” Eric King taught his children. “Be a leader in everything you do.”Some star athletes aren’t wired for leadership roles. D’Eriq is. Shortly after he enrolled at Miami and started winter workouts with his new teammates, he set up group texts with every position group on the team. He texted them daily, “because I was the new guy and needed to show them I cared about them.”“Even outside of football, people gravitate to him,” Keshon King said. “He’s very selfless.”D’Eriq is selfless enough that when he scored his first Miami touchdown, against UAB on Sept. 10, he turned down the program’s sideline prop—gaudy touchdown rings. Instead, he took the rings and gave them to a couple of offensive linemen.That selflessness led him to go along with Houston coach Dana Holgorsen’s odd plan to basically tank the 2019 season, which was supposed to be the quarterback’s last year of college. After starting 1-3, the first-year coach of the Cougars told King this was shaping up to be a lost season—for the team and for the player’s NFL hopes. So he suggested a redshirt season, and sat down with the King family to sell them on it.“Very strange,” was Keshon’s description of it.Still, D’Eriq bought in and said publicly that he would stick it out in Houston. But this was his third head coach (Tom Herman, Major Applewhite and Holgorsen) in college, and after a 4-8 year led to staff changes, he also was looking at a fourth offensive coordinator in 2020. After seeing what some instantly eligible quarterback transfers had been able to do elsewhere, King started envisioning himself in that role.That led to the transfer portal, and that led to Miami. It also led him to Rhett Lashlee, the new coordinator Diaz hired to energize what had been a dreadful Hurricanes offense in 2019. Lashlee’s track record was attractive to King.The former Gus Malzahn protégé played fast and emphasized the running game like his mentor. But at SMU, his most recent stop before Miami, he added a new element: some Air Raid passing principles. That led to a very successful season with another transfer quarterback, Shane Buechele from Texas.“I had some very bright people tell me, ‘You need to take a look at what Rhett is doing at SMU now,’“ Diaz said.Buechele threw for more than 3,900 yards and 34 touchdowns as SMU went 10-3 last year. Lashlee put on some of that SMU tape for King when he visited Coral Gables last winter, showing him how it could work with him taking the snaps. The two of them also looked at Miami’s skill talent and liked what they saw. Diaz added the last video piece, showing King what vintage Miami looked like when it had a big-time quarterback—guys like Heisman Trophy winners Vinny Testaverde and Gino Torretta, plus national championship winners Ken Dorsey, Steve Walsh and Bernie Kosar. King was sold, and it didn’t take long to sell himself to his teammates. Coaches often like taking in older transfers because they’ve been around the block and gained enough knowledge to know what really matters in terms of being successful.“He’s a mature kid,” Lashlee said. “He’s got that experience. He’s just a very consistent young man, he’s the same guy every day. I think that helps me as a coach and helps our offense to know that we’re going to get his best. I think that is slowly but surely becoming the personality of our offense, because he’s our leader.“He’s so even keel, so consistent on game day. We can put him in position where he can just go play and react. He’s capable of doing a lot mentally, but let’s just let him go react and play football.” King’s improvisational flair and athleticism helped him produce a whopping 50 touchdowns in 11 games in 2018, 36 passing and 14 running. That was the guy who set the Texas high school career passing touchdown record, breaking a mark previously set by the player he’d one day like to be—Kyler Murray.Murray, also standing shorter than 5’10”, became the No. 1 pick in the NFL after a Heisman Trophy season at Oklahoma. His pro career is off to a promising start. King has looked at that track record and said, “Why not me?”“I think [Murray] has opened some eyes at the position,” King said. “You don’t have to be 6’4″ or 6’5″, you just have to be able to make plays and be a leader.“I’ve played quarterback since I was 4 years old. I’ve had an endless amount of people who said I was going to be too short, and I’ve kept playing quarterback. I still hear it every single day [about the NFL].”There is still some chip on the shoulder from his days as a high school eighth-stringer, assigned a bottom-row locker in the junior varsity locker room. Just being able to take the field as the starting quarterback for a top 10 team at Clemson, and facing Trevor Lawrence, is a destination moment of sorts for D’Eriq King.A guy this serious about winning won’t look at it that way, though. The desired destination is walking out of Death Valley alive and well and victorious sometime near midnight Saturday. If King and the Hurricanes pull it off, this shotgun winter Miami marriage could really become a beautiful relationship. 

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