Gorman: For this farm family, football is King
The reality television show “Farm Kings” has brought fame to the family who owns Freedom Farms in Butler County.
The reality is, the Kings have long been a household name at Mars High School, where six brothers have played football for the Planets.
“People always say to me, ‘When is the next King coming?' ” Mars coach Scott Heinauer said. “To have all of those King kids year after year is awesome because you know you can count on them.”
John King is learning how to juggle fame, farming and football — just not necessarily in that order. With an easy smile, long blond hair and good looks, he's a natural in front of a camera and has cameos on the Great American Country network show.
“I got a little popularity from the show,” John said, with a laugh. “It's a lot of work, especially having to do the TV show, play football and work on the farm.”
A 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior who starts at right guard and middle linebacker and also serves as long snapper, John King brings exemplary work ethic to the Mars football team. Josh Schultheis ran behind King's blocks for many of his 212 yards in a 38-15 home win over Indiana on Friday.
What Heinauer loves is that the Kings actually enjoy coming to practice. Maybe because it gets them out of doing field labor such as picking and weeding the crops and selling produce at farmer's markets.
“Practice is only a few hours,” John King said. “Farming is a full day. It's definitely a break for us to come here for football.”
The Kings also represent a throwback for Mars, which has transformed from a small, rural school district to one of the fastest-growing and wealthiest in Western Pennsylvania. Some farms have been sold to develop luxury homes in a district with 50-plus millionaires.
There has been at least one King brother on almost every Planets team for the past 15 years, including their 2002 WPIAL Class AA finalist.
Joe played in 1998-99, followed by Tim, Pete, Dan, Sam and now John. Paul is a running back-linebacker on Mars' freshman team.
Heinauer said the five brothers who preceded John were strong, tough players who were running backs or linemen on offense and ends or linebackers on defense. All of them have worn either Nos. 42 or 61, which John wears with pride.
“It's like a carbon mold, although every single one of them has individual talents,” Heinauer said. “You know what you're going to get. All of those brothers push one another. That's a big thing.
“John, without a doubt, wants to live up to the expectations of his brothers who came through here. ... I don't think, as a coach, you could ask for more than that.”
As farmers down two helping hands during their busy season, the Kings could use their brothers' help.
“It hurts us, for sure,” Joe King said. “Tim does the produce in the fields, and those are his right hands. We make all our money in August, September and October, and that's when they leave for football.”
But Joe King is the first to say how much the family loves football and how much the sport has served as a release for the brothers. After working all day, they love to play.
Especially if they can hit someone who isn't a relative.
“We're very strong-willed and hard workers who are always competing against each other,” Joe King said. “It's nice to have that outlet.”
The difference, the brothers say, is that the youngest also are excellent students. That makes their older brothers proud. Joe, who has a civil engineering degree from Penn State, jokes that school was where he caught up on sleep.
Heinauer said John — who has a 3.4 grade-point average — not only calls the defense but also is Mars' vocal leader.
“They shine on the field and in the classroom,” Joe King said, “so it's great for us older brothers to see them be better than us.”
John knows that playing college football might be a “big conflict” for a family whose farm relies upon his help.
“I like working for my brothers and working on the farm,” he said, “but I also like playing football, so we'll see what I'm going to do.”
That's a worry for another day. Whether it's farming or football, the Kings know this reality: They can wear only one crown at a time.