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Troubled journey for USC recruit


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Troubled journey for USC recruit

By Joseph Person

The State

Published: January 31, 2008

MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. Blue flags strung across the grounds of Georgia Military College strike a sharp contrast against the gray skies on an overcast January day.

Flags flanking Georgia s Old Capitol Building are emblazoned with the school s motto, Character Above All! Other banners lining the sidewalks feature the words honor, duty and country.

They serve as a reminder of the school s mission to produce citizens who serve as role models after students complete the prep school or junior-college curriculum.

Jarriel King walks beneath the flags several times a day on his way to classes. But King is no longer subject to the marching and other rigors of a military-school environment: The South Carolina recruit was kicked out of the cadet corps and dismissed from the Bulldogs football team in August on charges that he stole money from teammates rooms.

The arrest was the latest off-the-field setback for King, who originally signed with the Gamecocks in 2005 as part of Steve Spurrier s first USC recruiting class.

But low SAT scores, a heart condition and the incident at Georgia Military s Baugh Barracks sidetracked King and threatened to end his USC career before it began.

However, USC coaches have stuck with King, willing to give the 6-foot-7, 315-pound defensive end a second chance. He is expected to sign with the Gamecocks next week, and he hopes to enroll at USC this summer.

King, a North Charleston native, has to pass 15 hours of classes this quarter, plus another three next quarter, to finish his two-year degree. The classroom work appears to be his final obstacle.

Prosecutors in Baldwin County, Ga., have agreed to drop the misdemeanor theft charge against King, who paid $275 in court costs in December, according to court officials. Meanwhile, USC doctors have cleared King to play with his heart condition.

It s been a long haul and road to get where I am now, but I m finally here, King said.

He is getting closer, anyway.

A HISTORY OF TROUBLE

King pulls down the hood of his dark sweatshirt as he walks into a pancake house on the outskirts of Milledgeville, a town in what the locals call Middle Georgia that is home to Georgia College & State University.

King bends his large frame into a booth, stretching his left leg into the aisle the way tall people sit in coach class. It is about 3 p.m. and King wants something to eat before his pickup basketball game that evening.

Since being booted from the cadet corps during the summer, King is something of an outsider at the school. He works out at a 24-hour gym off campus and plays basketball several times a week.

According to Georgia Military officials, King entered several teammates rooms on Aug. 12 after leaving practice early following a scare related to his heart condition. Surveillance videos show King leaving the trainer s room at the school s athletics building and crossing the street to the barracks, where cameras captured King checking each door on the second and third floors and entering any unsecured room.

According to a police report, King spent up to several minutes in each room. Officials say King took between $50 and $100, although Bulldogs coach Bert Williams said the dollar amount is irrelevant at a school that stresses character development.

It goes exactly in the opposite direction of what we re trying to do, Williams said.

King told officials he was checking to make sure everyone had gone to practice. He declined to discuss the incident further.

There was a whole different situation, but I ll leave it alone. It s not on my record or anything, said King, who can apply to have the charge expunged.

The 20-year-old King has an arrest record that dates to 2004.

As a senior at North Charleston High, King was convicted for trespassing after notice and sentenced to 32 hours of community service.

In August 2006, before his first season at Georgia Military, North Charleston police arrested King and charged him with kidnapping and assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature following a two-hour argument with an ex-girlfriend.

The female, who was 17 years old at the time, told police King held her against her will at his home through various physical means. According to an incident report, King bent the girl s wrist, grabbed her around the throat and later slammed her to the ground before apologizing and allowing her to leave.

The ex-girlfriend, who was treated for injuries that included a small welt on her nose, declined to prosecute.

Last year, King was cited for speeding and driving with a suspended license.

North Charleston coach Jimmy Brown said King is a good-hearted person who made some poor choices.

He led a sheltered life. He didn t have any street smarts, and when he started getting a name for himself, he started hanging around some people maybe, (with) better judgment, he shouldn t have been hanging around and getting in a little trouble, Brown said.

If he had a little more street smarts, he wouldn t have gotten in those situations. He s just a big, gullible kid.

During his time away from football, King began managing Heavy Hitters Security, a company that provides armed bouncers for private parties and nightclubs in Columbia and the Lowcountry. But King said he does not own a gun and seldom works security detail.

Williams, the GMC coach, who has sent a number of players to USC over the years, agreed that King has redeeming qualities but lacks maturity.

I feel very strongly that Jarriel has what it takes to overcome the problems in his past, Williams said. But it s just going to take some personal discipline and not taking the easy route.

A FREAKY TALENT

Athletic success might be the only thing that has come easily to King, whose first year of organized football was in the ninth grade after Brown spotted him at freshman orientation.

I see this kid walking through; I actually thought he was somebody s daddy, said Brown, who was an assistant coach at the time. When he told me he was a freshman, I think I had him out on the football field in the next 15 minutes.

King, who also tried wrestling, basketball and track during high school, remained a work in progress as a football player until his junior year, according to Brown.

I would say the light came on, and he s been a tremendous player ever since, he said.

After signing with the Gamecocks but failing to meet the minimum SAT score, King remained in North Charleston in 2005 and took the test a few more times to no avail.

He enrolled at Georgia Military in 2006 and became a starter on a defensive line that included current Georgia players Corvey Irvin and Jarius Wynn. The GMC coaches still talk about the play on which he chased down Trinity Valley (Texas) tailback Eric Ransom, who is now at Bowling Green.

They ve got a preseason All-American tailback that breaks through, and (King) runs his (butt) down. And it wasn t like (Ransom) was zigging and zagging, Williams said. At 285, 290 (pounds), that s freaky.

The play stands as King s signature moment at Georgia Military. The following spring he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and cardiac ischemia, a condition that prevents the heart from receiving an adequate flow of oxygenated blood.

King left Georgia Military and returned home, where MUSC doctors prescribed drugs that King quit taking because they made him tired.

I m doing just fine, he said. I don t like taking medicine. I don t like doing anything that alters my body.

King said he might go back on the medication when he plays football again.

As a result of his off-the-field issues, King has played one season since 2004. Despite questions about King s conditioning, Rivals.com rates him a four-star prospect.

I was a two-star when I first came out, King said. I could ve been five out of five stars if I played (last) year.

King has retained a hearty appetite.

At the IHOP, he started with a plate of blueberry pancakes before realizing he had overlooked the $4.99, all-you-can-eat pancake deal. He proceeded to polish off a total of nine pancakes, hash browns and scrambled eggs with cheese, considering but deciding against getting egg whites.

King engaged in friendly banter with the restaurant s wait staff, joking that they failed to mention the all-you-can-eat special when they saw him walk in.

I like to have fun. Everyone s negative. I m like, Get away from me, King said. I ve been through too much, man.

When he is not working or in class, King returns to the Charleston area to visit his 1½-year-old daughter, Jayla Bennett. He looks forward to running out of the tunnel at Williams-Brice Stadium.

I want the kid to do right. He s got the ability. He s got talent. He just doesn t have the maturity, Williams said. I m glad he s getting the chance to go back (to USC), and I want the best for him. I just want to see him continue to improve himself as a man.

jarrielking0131.jpg

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