P Marquette King punts the ball away in Week 10 against the New York Giants. Photo by Tony Gonzales
by Eddie Paskal
It's Tuesday morning at the Oakland Raiders' practice facility in Alameda, the players allotted off day. However, today is not an off day for first-year punter Marquette King.
King methodically walks through the facility hallways adorned with pictures of Raiders legends carrying a football tucked under his right arm and rhythmically dropping it down and kicking it back up to into his waiting hands.
He enters the facility cafeteria wearing camouflage shorts and a matching camouflage hat with the words "Kick Squad" embroidered on the back and sits down slowly at one of the tables, his hands never leaving the surface of the football.
"First and foremost, it's an honor to be with the Raiders period," says the Macon, Ga.-native with a slight Southern accent. "As long as I'm with the Raiders I want to be here, every day, in this facility, the same facility that Al Davis was in, just taking in the blessing. I feel like I'm fortunate enough to be in here in this facility instead of anywhere else in the world."
|Photo by Tony Gonzales|
While now considered one of the new up-and-coming punters in the NFL, King did not begin punting until his junior year of high school and was originally recruited by Fort Valley State to play wide receiver.
"They recruited me as a receiver and then they saw how good I was at punting and they looked at me at punter *and *receiver. Then we had a coaching change… and he said, 'Well if you're going to keep your scholarship, you have to be a punter.'"
The decision to switch from wide receiver exclusively to punter may have proven to be one of the best that King has made in his young career. Even prior to days kicking for the FVSU Wildcats, King knew he had raw, unmistakable talent.
"I would just kick in the backyard when I got bored, even before I started playing football," said King. "I just kicked, not knowing it was part of the game, and then somebody said, 'Man, kicking can take you a long way if you keep working at it.'"
Years later, this friend of King was correct; kicking has indeed taken him a long way from Macon.
As a junior in high school, Marquette would miss the bus back home to stay late after practice to work on his craft after everybody else had gone home for the evening.
"I would miss the bus just to stay at school and ask the coach for a big bag full of footballs and just go kick on the practice field for at least two hours."
Several years later, that extra time spent on the practice field paid dividends for the kid with the cannon leg, as King was named his team's Most Valuable Player following his senior year at Fort Valley State, in addition to All-First Team Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference honors.
Along with the awards and honors bestowed upon him by his team and conference, King also found a bit of notoriety on the Internet. If one was to type his name in a search bar, two of the first results that appear are videos of him kicking incredibly long punts, almost unimaginable distances.
One video of King kicking an 87-yard punt has amassed over 93,000 page views and another of him punting a ball that notched a hang time of 5.5 seconds at a Kohl's Kicking Camp at last count had over 305,000 views.
When asked about the videos, King sheepishly grins and says, "It's nice, man. I enjoy watching what I can do. I'm blessed that God gave me the talent to do it and I'm just going to keep doing it at as long as I can. Even when I get bored, I go out and punt."
He then quickly goes back a sentence in an attempt to reassure Raider Nation, "Not during the season though, I try to save my leg," he says with a big grin.
When King was signed as an undrafted free agent before the 2012 season, expectations were high. However, before King could really get rolling and establish himself as a legitimate NFL punter, he injured his foot and missed the entire 2012 season.
Not being able to compete was hard for the young punter, but the optimistic King was able to take advantage of his time on the shelf.
"It was tough," said King. "It was one of the toughest years just knowing that I couldn't go kick. There's a lesson in everything that happens."
He continued, "I just took it as a learning experience. Getting a chance to be around some of the players, getting a chance to learn, seeing the stuff that [former Raiders punter] Shane Lechler does and [Sebastian] Janikowski does, trying to see what they do to make them as good as they are and try to add different pieces to my game."
Marquette entered the 2013 season healthy and motivated. He had a good training camp in Napa, and at the conclusion, Head Coach Dennis Allen named him the starting punter.
Now that King has officially arrived on the kicking scene in the NFL, he has been making the most of his opportunity and learning all that he can.
In particular, he is trying to mimic the work habits of his fellow special team players, even on off days.
"Janikowski and [Jon] Condo are usually here trying to recover, staying in the cold tub, hot tubs, getting their legs back for the week. They're known for being some of the best players in this league, so I like to stay around them."
Before the season started, King went to a local office supply store and purchased a whiteboard that currently hangs in his kitchen. On it, he wrote his goals for the season; what he wanted to average per punt, what he wanted the team's net average to be and other statistical goals he is working on throughout this 2013 season.
With King's rare combination of supreme self confidence and humble demeanor, achieving his goals and giving his team every opportunity to be successful is something that is sure to come in time.
"You just have to have faith in what you can do," says King. "Because I know what I can do is good enough."
Through Week 11, King has punted 64 times for 3,114 yards. His average of 48.7 yards per punt ranks 3rd in the NFL, tied with San Francisco punter Andy Lee. Of the two with greater averages, one happens to be former teammate and current Texan Lechler.