It’s a highlight Nipomo High football coach Russ Edwards goes back to again and again when talking about Akeem King’s raw talent.
King, in just his second year of high school football, chasing down and tackling nationally recruited wideout — and future NFL second-round draft pick — Robert Woods of Serra in a CIF-Southern Section playoff game. Sure, Woods reached the ball over the goal line to score a touchdown, but as Edwards would tell college recruiters, the fact King was able to sprint across the field and chase down a USC commit was proof enough of King’s ability to play at the next level.
That combination of size and speed has lifted King to an elite level.
The Nipomo High graduate and San Jose State free safety was drafted in the seventh round of Saturday’s NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons.
“It’s super cool, and I’m so happy for him and his family,” Edwards said. “He had unlimited potential as a high school athlete, but that’s not enough to get you to the NFL. There’s no doubt that he’s worked his butt off these past few years and it’s paid off.”
The 6-foot-3, 214-pound redshirt senior was selected with the 249th overall pick.
“Top level athlete at safety who doesn’t have great tape versus low level competition.
Coaching will be big for him,” wrote CBSsports.com, giving the Falcons a B- grade for the pick.
No Cal Poly player was one of the 256 selected in the three-day draft, but the school said Saturday that star middle linebacker Nick Dzubnar signed a free-agent deal to join the San Diego Chargers.
Cal Poly outside linebacker Cameron Ontko has accepted an invitation to the rookie mini-camp of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next weekend.
King started all 12 games for the Spartans in 2014 with 71 tackles — 40 solo — two pass break-ups and no interceptions.
He ran his Pro Day 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds and, according to USA Today, took pre-draft visits to Atlanta, Seattle and Oakland.
“I spoke to him a week or so ago, and he was really positive,” Nipomo track and field coach and football assistant Lawrence Rucker said. “He had a great Pro Day and was really excited about his chances.”
King, who did not return messages seeking comment, is the first player in Nipomo history to be drafted in the NFL, and his selection marks the second straight year a San Luis Obispo County athlete has been picked.
Paso Robles graduate and Portland State offensive lineman Mitchell Van Dyk was taken in the seventh round — 226th overall — of last year’s draft by the St. Louis Rams, and recently signed a futures contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“It’s an affirmation that our coaching staff, all the guys that worked with our boys, made a positive impact,” said Edwards, who is now the athletic director for the Titans. “Nipomo helped get him to that elite level in some way shape or form, and I’m super proud of him.”
King didn’t start playing football for Nipomo until his junior year, and Edwards said the inexperience showed despite the unquestioned talent.
“He was a tight end and, really, he didn’t play much,” Edwards said. “We tried him at wide receiver and on defense, too, but he just didn’t know what he was doing.”
The following spring, King won a 100-meter dash race in a PAC 7 track meet — the first time he’d ever run the race — and he hasn’t slowed since.
“He never lost a race again,” Edwards said. “And his confidence just grew and grew from there. He came in the next year and became a big shutdown corner for us.”
King arrived at San Jose State as a wideout before redshirting in 2010 and seeing the field the next two years solely on special teams.
He saw his first action on defense toward the end of the 2013 season, recording three tackles in each of the final three games before starting all 12 contests in 2014.
According to various draft websites, King projects as a strong safety who likely will make his first impressions on special teams.
“Recruiters saw the size and speed we wrote down for him, but sometimes, they don’t believe us,” Edwards said. “So whenever we had a recruiter in, I put on that video of Akeem chasing down Robert Woods, who was something like the first- or second-best recruit in the country. San Jose State saw that and was willing to take a chance on that guy with unlimited potential.”
Five years later, so did the Falcons.