Crowning achievement: King steps up in Homecoming victory
The Homecoming king and queen were not the only ones that earned a crown at TDECU Stadium on Saturday. Sophomore quarterback D’Eriq King dominated in his first game as a starter and looked poised in the pocket in the Cougars’ 52-27 victory over East Carolina.
After an up-and-down season with a loss against 1-5 Tulsa and a win against a No. 17 USF team, the Cougars seem to have finally found their quarterback in King. The offense that struggled to find any rhythm under Kyle Allen and Kyle Postma flowed smoothly on Saturday.
The Manvel native didn’t waste any time in his first start against the Pirates. The Cougars took the ball first, and King immediately went to work to lead the team to a 75-yard drive that was capped off by a quarterback rush up the middle for a touchdown.
“I was comfortable in the pocket, and the offensive line did great being open and making plays for me,” said King after the game.
King ended his first start early after posting 330 yards through the air and four total touchdowns, including three passing TDs. Although he can run, King committed to the pass early and finished with only three rushes for 14 yards and one touchdown on the ground.
“I’m very proud of him,” said head coach Major Applewhite. “He’s been through a lot in terms of coming here with the opportunity to play quarterback.”
This week proves how dynamic he can be. After looking like a dominant force against USF on the ground with 80 yards rushing, King flipped the script and relied on his arm to get the job done against ECU.
With his latest performance, the sophomore is looking more and more like Greg Ward Jr., who led the 2016 Cougars to the 8th-best offense in the nation. UH averaged 45.3 points per game under the dynamic quarterback-turned-NFL wide receiver.
King played with Ward in his final season and has seen what he can do in person.
“Greg is a great player. Any quarterback would want to do some of the stuff that he did here,” King said. “I kind of looked up to Greg whenever I was here last year, and he taught me a lot. So I would say I wouldn’t try to be exactly like him, but I try to take from him and do just as good as he did.”
High school phenom
It has been only two years since King was highly recruited out of Manvel High School, just south of Houston. The dynamic quarterback had offers from Baylor, Clemson and even committed to TCU before finally deciding to join Houston.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound quarterback finished his high school career with more than 10,000 yards passing and 3,000 career rushing yards. He capped off his play as a senior with 2,898 yards in the air, 51 total touchdowns and 640 yards on the ground.
King was a highly-sought four star recruit when Tom Herman snagged him away from TCU in 2015. After being recruited as a quarterback, most of his time was spent as a receiver and running back in Ward’s dynamic offense.
“He was on pace to catch 60 balls as a true freshman, and then Kyle Postma got injured in the Tulane game, so he had to go back to quarterback,” Applewhite said. “He lost the production he had at wide receiver. Then he went into the weight room before we played San Diego State in the Las Vegas Bowl, suffered a knee injury and was out for four to five months.”
King’s injury proved to be a costly one. Being sidelined meant he could not compete for the starting job during training camp. This left the door open for junior Kyle Allen to take the reins after waiting a long time to finally get his shot after leaving Texas A&M.
“For a guy who never really had the chance to step all the way in the ring and fight, (King’s) done a hell of a job staying poise, patient,” Applewhite said. “That says a lot about his character and how he was raised.”
The speedy quarterback wasn’t just waiting around for his shot. From the moment King recovered, Applewhite featured him heavily in the offense. In just seven games, he had already caught 29 receptions for 264 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 143 yards — and another four touchdowns.
After Postma and Allen took turns struggling to lead the offense, Applewhite finally turned to King against the No. 17 South Florida Bulls. King didn’t start the game, but he finished it with 137 yards passing, 80 yards rushing, three total touchdowns and a 28-24 victory over a previously undefeated team.
King’s performance against USF, which included a game-winning 20-yard touchdown with just 11 seconds left in the game, earned him an AAC Player of the Week nod.
With his first start under his belt and a few games to go, King is poised to lead the Cougars to a bowl game in Applewhite’s inaugural year as head coach.
Despite the long journey, King is not bitter it took so long for the team to see his potential at quarterback.
“It’s been a long journey,” he said. “I just kept God first and kept working every day. When I first got here, I played receiver. It was something new, but I helped the team out as much as I could. It’s been a dream of mine to be a college quarterback, so it feels pretty good.”