Above photo of Kyle King by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
THIBODAUX, La.-Kyle King walked onto the Nicholls State football field, taking it all in. He wanted to soak up everything he could in this short time span of four days.
Typically, the campus and in a way, the town of 15,000 around it, sits quiet during the months of summer. But for these few days in late June, Thibodaux becomes home to the most talented group of young quarterbacks ever assembled. The Manning Passing Academy sets up shop here, as it has each year for over 25 years, and from across the nation, top-tier high school quarterbacks descend on the city to learn from the best. 45 college quarterbacks are here too, having been invited by Archie Manning himself, to both work the camp as counselors, and develop as quarterbacks.
Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young of Alabama is here. And so is Texas A&M’s Max Johnson. Stetson Bennett stands tall as well, as the starting quarterback of the reigning national champs. But he is not the only reigning national champion on this field. There stands Kyle King, of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, whose accomplishments were pages long in 2021. He is one of two representatives of the D-III level here, and has more than proven that he belongs.
“I took the mindset of, ‘I’m here for a reason,’” King said days after the camp. “I didn’t want to be the guy being timid or not throwing the ball like I know I can because I’m scared. I tried to soak it all in, enjoy the time, but not be starstruck and go out there and do what I need to do.”
He did just that, taking in the atmosphere and the opportunity. That included developing friendships with the other college signal callers in attendance, including Houston quarterback Clayton Tune, who King is planning to work out with on a couple of occasions this summer.
“The guys I was with were awesome,” King added. “They were the first to tell me, ‘I don’t care that you play D3. Football is football and you can play, that’s why you’re here. They treated me like one of their own.
“The quarterbacks were great. It was great being around a bunch of guys who I could talk football with in-depth. They understand schemes and plays. That was pretty refreshing, having a conversation with someone who is just as educated, or probably even more educated, than me on the matter.”
As a future coach and aspiring offensive coordinator, King’s takeaways from the camp were just as much from the perspective of a current player as they were a coach. Surrounded by some of the best offensive minds in football, he picked up on a number of things that he believes will impact him as he begins his coaching career within the next few years.
“I got to pick up on some drills that I might not have known about otherwise, and got to hear from some of the best coaches in the nation talk about what they do and how they run their stuff. I tried to soak it all in. Jordan Palmer was out there, and we had a nice long conversation. I never would have gotten that opportunity before. Honestly, if there’s ever a kid that gets invited to that camp, do not turn it down. Just go, and you will not be disappointed.”
King’s 2021 accolades were reason enough for his invitation to be part of the camp; National Champion, the D-III leader in passing efficiency, a school record holder. But far too often, it has seemed that even the best in D-III are overlooked when compared to those in D-I. However, as more and more D-III alumni have garnered professional contracts, and invites to camps such as MPA, it gives a sense of pride and legitimacy to the nation’s largest division.
“I think it’s huge for the D3 level,” King said. “Liam Thompson [from Wabash] and I were there [representing the D3 level]. He can absolutely sling the football. Both of us got exposure this weekend, and I think we may have laid the groundwork for other D3 quarterbacks to be invited in the future. It’s a big deal, not just for UMHB, but for the whole division and getting guys exposure who deserve exposure. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes in the future.”
Regardless of division, earning an invite to the MPA does not come easily, considering just 45 spots are given to the collegians, who also assist the coaches at the high school workouts during the day. An unparalleled level of hard work is necessary, and King has developed that in a unique way: he works hauling hay during the summers.
“I work with a big group of guys out there. I think it does help me with my work ethic quite frankly. It’s just something I do. I’ve worked my whole life. I’m from a small town. I was hauling hay before I ever played college football. I’d say it’s given me a little edge to myself that maybe some guys don’t have. I know how far I can push my limits physically, because I know how totally exhausted feels. Not a lot of guys can say that.”
Since breaking onto the scene in week three of the 2021 spring season, King has become a figure synonymous with the UMHB football program. But there is still a side of Kyle King that is not widely known. He is too humble to broadcast it. As a recognizable face in nearby Milano, however, King is more than just a football player. In fact, one of the multiple hats that he wears in the town of 400 is volunteer fireman.
“We’ve been doing that quite a while,” King said, noting that his younger brother, Ben, is also part of the organization. “That’s just something we do to help our community out. When we became part of it, a couple of our classmates stepped up as well. It’s a cool deal. You pretty much do everything a real firefighter does, the scale is not the same, but we go to house fires, grass fires, wrecks, medical calls. I’ve seen some stuff doing that in my life that I really don’t like to talk about. But I wouldn’t change it because it has made me part of who I am.”
Having joined as a senior in high school, he recalls days when an emergency call would come in. And more often than not, he would be one of the volunteers to respond.
“In high school, if we got a call during school, we had an excused absence and we could go to our fire call. Our teachers would be like, ‘Go ahead’. Because they never knew if it was going to be their house or their pasture on fire.”
Growing up in a tight community no doubt shaped him, King says. In fact, it seems there is a link between the small-town kids that UMHB recruits, and the overall buy-in within the nation’s most successful program.
‘Part of being successful at UMHB is buying in. It’s like buying into a little community. I feel like that was an advantage for me, because I had already experienced that back home; buying into a town, and them buying into me.”
Belton has now bought into King and the Crusaders, especially coming off the Stagg Bowl victory last December that capped a 15-0 season. For much of that year, the Cru was ranked No. 2, and consistently doubted throughout the playoff run. But with their national title run, and King’s rise to D-III prominence, there are higher expectations for UMHB, and yet, King is approaching the season with the same mentality.
“The press and that stuff doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “In the big scheme of things, it’s about winning football games with your buddies. I miss my teammates. I wish football was starting tomorrow. I’m ready to get the camaraderie going again.
“You have to forget about last year. It was a great season last year, but every season is a new season. Talking about mindset going into the year, not just for me but for our team, I think it has to be, ‘We got to let go of last year and we have to get back on the train and get back to working hard and start doing the little things right.’ We’re beatable. And that’s ok. Everyone is beatable. But we have to work towards becoming unbeatable.”