Karrington King had a storybook career. After coming to Charlotte as a walk-on, he earned a scholarship position after his redshirt year. In the following three season, the linebacker was a common fixture on the field for the 49ers.
He racked up over 70 tackles in two of those seasons, becoming the second 49er to do so. King became the first Charlotte player to record over 50 tackles in four straight seasons.
Entering the 2017 season, he also filled a leadership position for the team off the field.
“I had to step into a leadership position, Coach Lambert and Coach Wally asked me to. Typically I was just a soldier where I just follow directions and do everything I was told to do to my best. They wanted me to speak up and have a voice on the defense as well as on the team. I stepped up to it, I felt comfortable in it,” King said.
Entering the 2017 season, King touted 205 career tackles. That number was just a handful shy of the 217 mark set by former-49er Larry Ogunjobi for the most career takedowns in program history. In the first drive of the second game of the season, King eclipsed Ogunjobi, taking the first place spot.
He continued to show off on the field and midway through the first half of the Western Kentucky game, the linebacker had over 60 tackles on the season. That all changed, however, midway through the second quarter of that game. After shedding a block, a WKU offensive lineman fell on King’s leg, dislocating it.
“I heard a pop and I knew right then and there that something was wrong so I just went down,” King said. “Some people came out there, AJ and the trainers came in. Dr. Fleischli, he’s the one doing my surgery, yanked it a couple of times and he put it back in eventually after some painful yanks. He finally got it back in and once he got it back in they just carted me off.”
Without knowing the severity of his injury, King still believed returning to the game was a possiblity.
“Initially, I just wanted them to put it back in. That’s all I was saying was ‘put it back in,’” King said. “I was thinking I was going to be able to play once they put it back in. But once he started yanking it I was like ‘no, I’m not going to be able to play anymore.’”
It wasn’t until King was carted off the field and placed it the ambulance that he realized he wouldn’t see the field as a player again.
“Then, once I got in the ambulance I realized I’m not going to be playing the rest of the season,” King said. “Then it clicked on me, I was like ‘wow.’ Then the doors closed and it was dark in there, I felt all by myself. I was like ‘dang, I hope we win this game at least, or something.’”
The days following his injury were emotional for King, but they were also a time of reflection.
“I’m a man of God. So really that weekend I was all in my feelings, I took the Monday off and I just had some time to think about things and wonder where I was going to next, the next chapter all that stuff they say,” King said.
After a few days, King slid into his new role on the team.
“Coach Wally always talks about body language and what you show and how it’s more important than what you say mostly. I just try to be here as much as possible, I want to still be a part of this team because I love this team. I’ll probably be here as much as possible and I’ll be on the field as much as I can and I’ll definitely follow my team because I want them to be successful,” King said.
In the week following his season-ending injury, the 49ers found their first victory of the season on Homecoming against UAB. King was on the sideline, sporting the 49 jersey – an honor given to one player each week that made an impact leading up to the game during practice. In that victory, the Charlotte defense held UAB to 344 yards of total offense which is the fewest yards they have allowed this year. Though he didn’t have a role in the game, his influence was still felt on the field.
“You just never think a guy’s career is going to stop,” head coach Brad Lambert said. “I think everyone was collectively, defensively like you know what, we have to all pull together and stop these guys. Karrington was there with us and he’s done so much for us and I think the guys really took that to heart and wanted to go out there and make plays and play well for him.”
While he could not be beside his teammates during practice or lifting weights, King’s presence in the field house still served to energize his peers.
“I think Karrington was a big motivating factor in how well our defense played and how well we are going to continue to play,” Linebacker Jeff Gemmell said. “So not having him definitely felt different. At the same time, he’s always around, he’s in treatment, he’s always giving encouragement to the guys on defense and I think still having him around really makes a big difference not only on Saturdays but throughout the week.”
Though his situation seems bleak, King knows there is more to life than playing football.
“I’m perfectly fine with it, I just know I have to keep my spirits up because people see me and probably feel bad for me,” King said. “I want them to know I’m fine, I’m good, I’m very positive about it because I know God has a plan for me so I’m just looking forward to seeing what’s happening next.”