Knoch senior lineman follows in father's footsteps
Primed to begin his 16th season as Knoch's football coach, Mike King inevitably has developed constants over the years — from stable assistants to training camp schedules to game-day routines.
But one person who has shadowed him just about every step of the way is his son, Kraig. Now a senior, the younger King has been hanging around Knoch football since age 5.
Once a task-oriented youngster and dad's side-car, the younger King served as a water boy, ball boy and equipment manager. But now all grown up, he is ready to make his mark as a starting offensive tackle and nose guard.
“I would go in with my dad every morning and hang out; I'd fill water bottles and help the trainers out,” Kraig said. “I would lay out game jerseys on Thursdays. I always thought about the time when I would get to play.”
His father remembers after-school “playtime” being spent on the football field.
“He was driving golf carts around and had keys to the coaches' office,” coach King said. “He was running (game) balls on Friday nights.
“He would sleep on my lap on the way home from games. Then, he found out it was more fun in the back with the players.”
One of just three returning starters — joining another lineman, Division I prospect Connor Shinsky, and wide receiver/defensive back Adam Albert — King assured that he has found his way unassisted.
“Some people look at me and say, ‘Oh, you're the coach's son and you're on the team because of your dad,' ” he said. “I feel I have to step up to a different level and prove that I am here on my own.”
Tossed into the starting lineup at center last season in Week 5 at Hampton, King (5-foot-11, 230 pounds) played well and remained an impact player through the end of the season as the Knights went 7-3 and made the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs.
“I don't even remember that day in school,” he said of the Hampton game. “I was so focused on that game because I knew I was starting. I didn't want anything bad to happen.”
Kraig didn't begin playing football until the seventh grade. It was then he began to hone his talent as a long-snapper.
The Kings lean on a family tree rooted in football. Mike, who played at Knoch in the late 1970s/early 1980s, also served as a student manager for his father, Bob, Knoch's coach from 1969-75.
“I did that for a couple of years,” King said. “I goofed around with the tackling dummies. I remember it being a lot of fun.”
When he was a fifth-grader, he idolized some of Knoch's stars and drew pictures of them. His homemade posters were thumb-tacked to the wall in the trainer's room. One was of former running back Tim McNerney, the Washington & Jefferson player who was robbed and killed last fall in Washington County.
“I looked up to those guys,” Kraig said. “I wanted to be one of them. I always focused on the skill guys because that's what I wanted to be.”
Instead, though, King will follow in his father's footsteps and, perhaps as fate would have it, play on the line. Mike played on the right side of the offensive line; Kraig is on the left.
“But this will be the first year I'll ever have played on defense,” Kraig said. “I love it there.”
Of course, there will come a time next season when father and son are separated — assuming Kraig doesn't return to help coach right away.
That means this season's Senior Night at Knoch will be emotional for the pair as they step away from the game to honor Kraig's final year.
“I don't want to think about that; I can't even think about it,” Kraig said.
Neither can dad.
“Kraig has been my right-hand man since his mother first let him come to practice with me,” Mike said. “I don't know what I will do without him.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.