E.A. Sports Today

King always was ready

Hero of Wellborn’s playoff win mentally, physically prepared for his crowning achievement

Dakota King (50) kicks his game-winning field goal against Oakman, then (front) celebrates after it goes through. (Photos by Greg McWilliams)

Dakota King (50) kicks his game-winning field goal against Oakman, then (front) celebrates after it goes through. (Photos by Greg McWilliams)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Dakota King has spent a kicker’s lifetime convincing himself he would be ready if ever called upon to live a kicker’s dream of winning a big game in the closing seconds.

The call the Wellborn senior rehearsed so many times in his mind materialized Friday night and it played out exactly like he always told himself it would.

King kicked a 25-yard field goal with six seconds to play to give the Panthers a 24-23 win over Oakman and send them into the third round of the state playoffs for the first time since 1995.

“I’ve always had it in the back of my mind what if it happens,” King said Sunday. “I’ve always thought about if it came down to it would I be ready. When I went out there I didn’t have any doubt about making it. I didn’t think I’d miss.

“I’ve always dreamed of kicking the championship-winning field goal, but a playoff game, that’s just as big. We’re going to the third round of the playoffs for the first time in 19 years.”

In a case straight from the Be-Careful-What-You-Wish-For Dept., the Panthers (8-3) now play top-ranked and two-time reigning state champion Madison Academy (11-1) Friday night. The game is scheduled for Wellborn, but the AHSAA is looking into a post-game melee Friday and there could be repercussions.

King was so focused on his job when coach Jeff Smith dispatched him with “full confidence” to send the Panthers through he didn’t even know how far the attempt was or how much time was left on the clock.

He missed an attempt earlier this season against Glencoe, at a time he was doing double-duty as an offensive lineman, but has kicked them from as far as 42 yards in practice. He hasn’t missed an extra point in the playoffs.

“Coach Smith obviously thought we were close enough to get it,” said King, who settled back into full-time kicking after hurting his hand off the field during Homecoming Week. “It didn’t matter anyway. I just went out there and kicked.

“I had been sitting there watching my team fight their heart out the whole game – it was just a war between us – and I knew it was coming my time to help my team out. I went over to warm up and my teammates kept coming over asking if I was ready. I said, yes, just let me be and I’ll get out there and kick it for us.

“I had a lot going through my mind when I went out there. I never felt anything like that before.”

But like anyone who has been successful at anything, he relied on his training. King had spent “hours and hours” in recent weeks after practice with his uncle Johan Vaughn extending his leg and perfecting his timing. That’s basically what it all came down to at zero hour Friday.

“We came up on the playoffs and Coach Smith knew something,” King said. “He was telling me we were going to come to a kick sometime and he was like you’ve got to be ready when I need you. We pretty much knew. They had me prepared.”

Up until this year, King had been known in all the Wellborn literature as Dakota Gravitt, but changed his name this summer to King to honor his father and ensure that would be the name carried on the back of his senior-year game jersey; some of the Panthers still call him “Gravitt” in practice, he said.

Now that he’s something of a community hero, everyone knows his name. And when you’re a community hero, you never know who’s going to stop you on the street.

“One of our players from a couple years ago, Delrikus Rhoden, stopped at a stop sign, got out of his car, gave me a hug and thanked me and told me I did a great job,” King said. “When his door opened I’m thinking who is this and what are they doing. When he got out of his car, I knew exactly who it was.”

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