Thursday, February 22, 2018
Sports

Darnell King's winding career leads to Rowdies

ST. PETERSBURG

That an area high school star should ended up playing his professional soccer for the Tampa Bay Rowdies seems a natural story.

But the details of how it got to that point for Darnell King weren't always natural. They included playing at a college he'd never heard of — in cold weather that wasn't part of the sales pitch — covering his bases by selling yoga pants and getting nudged into a pro tryout thanks to a persistent girlfriend.

And finally, ascending to an all-league level — at a position he's still not fully comfortable playing.

That's right. King, in his second season as the Rowdies' rock-solid starting right defensive back, did not play defense at Gaither High School, where he set a school mark with 71 points in a season. Nor did he at Florida Atlantic University, where he was the Owls' leading scorer each of his final three seasons.

"Where I'm at, I'm okay with it," King said. "I like getting up the field, that's my mentality. But it's my job to defend first."

And he's doing it much to the Rowdies' liking. On a team with extraordinary depth on defense, King has played all 720 minutes of the first eight regular-season matches.

"He's one of the best athletes I've ever seen," says Rowdies captain Tam Mkandawire, also an every-game member of the defense. "He has pace, power, strength. And he's still learning the position. He's only going to get better."

So how did King, a natural goal scorer, become a member of the NASL's 2014 all-star team (Best XI) as a defender? By following his motto: take opportunity when it comes.

After all, that's how he ended up playing his college ball at FAU. King figured he'd attract interest from USF or even a Division II program like the University of Tampa but had no luck.

"Never got that phone call. Never got anything," King recalled.

Fortunately he had a good friend who was transferring from Lynn University, a Division II school in Boca Raton, to the Division I program in the same city. King had no clue either existed, but with the connection he earned a trial practice for FAU and not too long after was headed to school there.

The only catch was the weather. FAU had been a member of the Sun Belt Conference, which lived up to its name. But King's freshman season saw the Owls move into the Mid-American Conference, where they were the only Florida team among schools from Ohio and Michigan. National power Akron was the leader.

"It was all new to me and it was actually another level. We lost to Akron 7-0 my first year. Unfortunately we lost the majority of our games," King said.

In four seasons the Owls went 3-19-2 in conference play, but King put up 17 goals in four years (the rest of the team had 22 in the same period). He made all-conference — "I was 10th after nine Akron players" he said — and King saw pro soccer as a real path, getting a shot in an NASL tryout in south Florida. He figured the Fort Lauderdale team was a perfect fit.

But again, no phone calls. That's where his then-and-still girlfriend, Kim Wolf, came into play.

"Kim's with me and kept telling me, 'If you don't try and call them, approach them (yourself), you'll never know.' She's in my ear, 'Call 'em, call 'em,' " King said.

So he did, the Strikers answered, and the rest is a circuitous history. He got semi-regular action as a rookie in 2012 before an injury to the team's right back landed him in his now secure position. But he doesn't mind sojourning up the pitch when he gets a chance.

"He still likes to express himself going forward, but he's so fast he can afford to do it," Mkandawire said. "And he's just a great guy, too. I really can't think of anything bad to say about him."

King is even a talented, aspiring singer, a trait he says he got from his mother, Renee Richardson. His father was the athlete. Tampa Bay Bandits fans might remember Timothy King, who played for the popular USFL franchise and even suited up for the Buccaneers in their three strike games. King's parents encouraged him to play numerous sports.

"I played soccer with my neighbor all the time so I just woke up one day at 3 years old and said I wanna play soccer. My parents were like, 'Sure,' " King said.

Basketball is his second love, but he figures his lack of height (he's 5-9 now) in ninth grade led to him being among the final cuts at Gaither. Yes, another twist of fate — that "bloody ax" as he calls it led to no sports for King as a freshman, but going full-bore soccer as a sophomore.

Though not exactly how he might have planned it, things have worked out ever since.

This is the first installment in our summer series profiling the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

 
Comments
USA! USA! Women’s hockey beats Canada for Olympic gold

USA! USA! Women’s hockey beats Canada for Olympic gold

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — The Americans' gold medal drought in women's hockey is finally over. They needed the first shootout in an Olympic women's final to do it, too.Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson scored a dazzling, triple-deke goal in the sixth ...
Updated: 22 minutes ago
Girls basketball region finals preview

Girls basketball region finals preview

All games at 7 p.m. FridayClass 8ANaples Gulf Coast (25-2) at Tampa Bay Tech (25-3): The Titans are coming off a 62-44 win over Countryside. They are clearly playing some good basketball at the right time. Junior Jalyn Spurlin scored 12 poi...
Updated: 3 hours ago
What if the Rays actually have a good plan?

What if the Rays actually have a good plan?

PORT CHARLOTTE — Going against popular opinion, here's an odd thought to ponder:What if the Rays actually know what they're doing?The deal agreed to Wednesday afternoon with veteran outfielder Carlos Gomez — one year for a hefty-for-them ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
New D-line coach Brentson Buckner wants to make Bucs pass rush great again

New D-line coach Brentson Buckner wants to make Bucs pass rush great again

This isn't the first time Brentson Buckner has wanted to get closer to the Bucs defensive line.As a defensive tackle for the Panthers, Buckner's team went 7-9 in 2002, the inaugural season for the NFC South.Tampa Bay won the division that year, and w...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Hey Rays, this is no way to build a ballpark

Hey Rays, this is no way to build a ballpark

PORT CHARLOTTE — It was another morning after at Charlotte Sports Park and Rays Bargain Clearance Barn.  This time it's Steven Souza Jr., man of a thousand faces. He gone.What else is new at the incredible shrinking baseball team?It's spri...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Dick Vitale to Rays owner Stu Sternberg: Sell the team

Dick Vitale to Rays owner Stu Sternberg: Sell the team

PORT CHARLOTTE – Dick Vitale, the Rays' most visible and, as of late, vocal fan, took to Twitter and the 620-AM airwaves Wednesday morning and later in the day in a phone call to the Tampa Bay Times to blast his local baseball team.Vitale, ESPN...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Winter Olympics: Thursday’s viewing guide

Winter Olympics: Thursday’s viewing guide

TV today6:05 a.m.-5 a.m. Friday NBCSNCurling (M) — Semifinal, United States vs. Canada (LIVE)Short-track speed skating — Finals, men's 500m, women's 1,000m, men's 5,000m relayBiathlon (W) — 4x6k relay finalCurling (M) — Semifi...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Ryan Callahan regaining his confidence for Lightning

Ryan Callahan regaining his confidence for Lightning

When the Lightning put wing Ryan Callahan back on the power play a month ago, there were many reasons for the move.With Ondrej Palat suffering a lower-body injury Jan. 20, Tampa Bay needed a replacement who was fearless in front of the net and a rele...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Thursday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYBoxingFeatherweights: Diaz vs. Terrazas11:30 p.m.ESPN2College basketballWomen: Maryland at Michigan6 p.m.Big TenWomen: LSU at South Carolina6:30 p.m.SECConnecticut at Cincinnati7 p.m.ESPNWisconsin at Northwestern7 p.m.ESPN2Winthrop at NC-Ashevil...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Winter Olympics: U.S. women end speed-skating medal drought

Winter Olympics: U.S. women end speed-skating medal drought

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Mia Manganello crossed the finish line, glanced at the video board and yelled. She then grabbed hands with American teammates Heather Bergsma and Brittany Bowe, and the trio thrust their arms in the air. The Americans had re...
Updated: 5 hours ago