24: Iowa's King still a linebacker at heart

Aug. 21, 2008

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Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 7, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2008-09 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Mitch King has added his name to the lineage of those University of Iowa football recruits who enter as a linebacker and exit as terrorizing defensive lineman.

Need more examples? How about Jonathan Babineaux, now with the Atlanta Falcons; Aaron Kampman, now with the Green Bay Packers; Matt Roth, now with the Miami Dolphins. Even King’s stable mate, fellow four-year starter at defensive tackle, Matt Kroul, came to Iowa City after a stellar prep career as a linebacker.

“It was shocking,” King said of the move. “I grew up loving linebackers. I still feel like I’m a linebacker at heart, so it was pretty shocking and it hurt for a minute, but I knew it would help the team. Coach (Norm) Parker really wanted me to switch, so I knew it would be the best for me, too.”

King said that the coaching staff highlighted all the great former Hawkeyes who had success at a revised position, including all-pro tight end Dallas Clark of the Indianapolis Colts. Still, when you were a year removed from high school, it was hard for King to visualize himself on the same level as those future professionals.

“I think Mitch was a little hesitant, but he agreed to give it a shot and it has really worked out well,” UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He was recruited as a middle linebacker-type player. We try to get good football players and he was a good fit for our program. The biggest thing we saw when recruiting Mitch was a real enthusiasm and passion for the game and a great attitude.”

The rest, as they say, is history. King has been named to the 2008 Lott Trophy Watch List as one of the 42 top collegiate defensive players in the country. Last season he recorded 58 tackles, including 14 ½ for a loss and 4 ½ quarterback sacks. His tackles for loss total tied for 38th nationally.

“I’m happy with the move,” King said. “They said if I switched positions I might see playing time my freshman year and having playing time builds your confidence. I like the contact every play. You’re in the mix all the time and you’re hitting someone on every play.”

Last season King was named first team all-Big Ten by the coaches and second team all-Big Ten by the media. For his career he has 174 tackles (96 solo, 78 assists) with 39 ½ tackles for loss, 13 ½ quarterback sacks and 11 quarterback hurries.

“My family is number one. They have always been there for me. My mom has always been there and my brother helped me through the football aspects of everything. I also looked up to some great players I never met. I studied how they played the game and how they acted. You just want to take mental notes of how other people act that have been there and how you want to be like when you get to that stage.”
UI defensive tackle
Mitch King

“Mitch has already established himself as a good player in the Big Ten,” Ferentz said. “I don’t think he should put a cap on what he can accomplish. He has a knack for making big plays. He’s strong, physical and elusive and plays his position well. We expect him to play his best football this season.”

During his career at Burlington High School, King was named Class 4A all-state by the Des Moines Register and the Iowa Newspaper Association as a senior. He was also a member of the SuperPrep all-region team and lettered in three sports — football swimming and baseball.

“Growing up, I never really followed the Hawkeyes or wasn’t really a college fan,” King said. “I was into the NFL and the Miami Dolphins. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in high school that I started following Iowa and college football.”

And King liked what he saw of the Iowa program. In a way, a student from Burlington almost seems destined to wear the black & gold uniform. After all, the local newspaper is called The Hawkeye.

“Iowa was an up-and-coming program,” King said. “When I started watching them, they were doing really well — the 10-win seasons, the Orange Bowl. It just felt right. The Big Ten is a physical conference and I take myself as a physical guy. I felt comfortable with the coaching staff, Coach (Chris) Doyle and the guys I met on my recruiting trips. I just felt comfortable with the guys I’d be playing with and the conference I would be playing in.”

The 6-foot-3, 264-pound King has played on Hawkeye teams that were selected to the Outback Bowl (2005) and the Alamo Bowl (2006). Iowa was bowl-eligible for a seventh consecutive season in 2007, but a season-ending 28-19 loss at home against Western Michigan left the Hawkeyes with a 6-6 overall record and on the outside looking in at the final bowl pairings. King said he felt shame after that upset loss to the Broncos and vowed to turn that sour taste in his mouth as inspiration in 2008.

“Shame,” King said. “It was a shame that we let that one go. It was within our grasp, we were on a run there at the end of the year and we just kind of took that for granted. That game served as motivation especially for the guys who played in that game and put all they had into it.”

The Hawkeyes won their final three conference games — 34-27 against Michigan State in double overtime, 28-17 at Northwestern and 21-16 against Minnesota — to finish 4-4 and tied for fifth in the Big Ten. They also posted a 10-6 victory at home against league runner-up Illinois. Iowa enters the 2008 season sharing the longest Big Ten league winning streak at three games.

According to King, there is no magic blueprint to follow in order to make a return trip to the bowl scene.

“If we come to play every game and play as hard as we know we can,” he said. “It’s a matter of how hard we work. We need to come ready to play and play hard. It’s a great feeling when you win the games you should win. Not everyone is destined to be a national champion, but you can control winning the games you should win.”

King is majoring in health and sports studies. He said when college ends, he would like to start a business in Burlington with two friends and also expand the business that his mother owns and operates. King said his mother and older brother have been his role models.

“My family is number one,” he said. “They have always been there for me. My mom has always been there and my brother helped me through the football aspects of everything. I also looked up to some great players I never met. I studied how they played the game and how they acted. You just want to take mental notes of how other people act that have been there and how you want to be like when you get to that stage.”

Of all the big hits King has supplied over the years, there is one that sticks out. It was Oct. 6, 2007, at Penn State. Anthony Morelli, the Nittany Lion quarterback, had his back to King as the Hawkeye applied pressure.

“I was coming around the end and forced the fumble,” King said. “It was a good feeling. All the big hits you don’t really feel, it’s just a fluent moment and it just feels right when you hit them.”

Big hits aren’t the only things that feel right to King. Another is making the successful switch from linebacker to defensive tackle.