King Rehabs, Works For Another Shot

WVU alumnus Brian King started on the right foot in his attempt to forge an NFL career, but a painful injury has forced him to sit out the upcoming season.

After leaving West Virginia as the all-time leader in passes broken up, underrated Brian King snared a free agent offer from the Carolina Panthers. The NFL runners-up last year, the Panthers offered a great opportunity to the Mountaineer rookie.

"I couldn't have walked into a better situation," King said. "The Panthers are a great organizaion, and the general manager and coach were very good to me. Plus, they brought me in as a free safety, and the backup from last year left for another team, so I felt like I had a good chance to compete."

That he did, until King hurt his back during mini-camp. Despite diligent rehabilitation work and aggressive treatment from the team medical staff, King's back never got any better.

"I felt like I was taking two steps forward, and then three steps back," King said with frustration. "It's been nothing but setbacks since then. I had an MRI on Wednesday, and the diagnosis is a herniated disk.

"There's just no comfortable position, other than lying down with my feet up," King continued. "The disk is inflamed, and it pinches the nerve, and sends shooting pains down my right leg.

"I got to the point where I was running at about 80%, but then I hurt it again. There wasn't any contact - I was just running."

As King relates the story, the frustration in his voice is obvious. Always a great competitor, King admitted he does not deal with injuries well.

"The hardest part of it is mental," King related. "A lot of it is in what your outlook is, and mine isn't good when I'm hurt. You can ask the trainers or Coach Rod about that. Missing practice is tough - especially when I know I could compete here.

"What makes it worse is that 98% of the guys here (Spartanburg, S.C, where the Panthers hold camp) don't know what I did in college. To them, I'm just another body in the training room. I want to be out there and show what I can do."

For the immediate future, however, that's not an option. King is again undergoing a rehabilitation process, albeit a less aggressive one than was employed over the summer. However, contrary to many reports, the Maryland native hasn't been cut. NFL rules do not allow players to be cut outright when they are injured, and the Panthers elected to place King on their injured reserve list.

"I'm out for the year, so I will have time to get my back better, King said. "Surgery is the last resort for me right now - I'm only 23 years old, and I don't want to look at that as an option until I have to."

King's career parallelled with that of another former Mountaineer star, Grant Wiley, who, like King, had one injury plagued year at WVU, signed an NFL free agent contract, and impressed his team before suffering a season-ending injury. (Wiley will undergo surgery next week to repair a torn rotator cuff.)

"I haven't talked with Grant yet, but I will soon," said the always honest and open King. "We did have similar careers, and we both had great shots at making our teams. I know what he's feeling."

Any elite athlete can understand the feelings that go along with being injured and unable to compete at peak efficiency. While players forced to sit on the sidelines often recede from the public's consciousness (how many of you thought about Tim Brown last year?) the athletes themselves must battle through periods of doubt as they wait to heal, then try to battle their way back to the top.

It's a difficult task, but King has done it before, as he fought through a serious wrist injury to become one of the best defensive backs in Mountaineer history. It wouldn't be wise to bet against him.

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