Pepperoni and onion, or sausage and mushroom. Chocolate or vanilla. Regular or decaffeinated. Fries or onion rings. PC or Mac. Two percent or skim. … The choices go on and on.
Cedric Killings never shies away from choices.
In fact, when most high school students with collegiate athletic aspirations are choosing universities, their choices most often are made by determining which school offers more playing time or promises a better chance at winning. Occasionally the academic side of college life creeps into the decision as well.
But Killings, the 6-2, 290-pound defensive tackle who as a free agent signed with the Vikings earlier this season, weighed other factors when he was looking for that perfect college fit.
"I didn't want to be around my friends," said Killings, who at 18 years old must have been the exception to the rule. "I needed a change in life instead of horse-play and fooling around. I wouldn't take college that serious then."
Killings went to high school at Miami Central and never had a problem filling his social calendar. "I wasn't rough," Killings said. "It was just that I got into little mischievous things that I did growing up in the bad part of Miami. Often, I was just looking for something to do. It was more of being in the wrong place at the wrong time."
So when college scouts came calling and the recruiting process began, Killings had decisions to make. First, his SAT scores weren't high enough to qualify for most Division I schools, so his choices were limited. Florida A&M made offers, but it didn't possess the same appeal of one anonymous school from Jefferson City, Tenn.
Carson-Newman, which sounds more like a department store than a college, offered a small college atmosphere in Jefferson City that lured Killings. It was his ideal college destination because it wasn't like Miami.
It wasn't overwhelming. It wasn't full of distractions. It wasn't home.
"Coming from Miami, it was a change of pace," Killings said. "Carson-Newman was very slowed down. It's a Christian College. I know it helped me as far as life skills and getting me on a path. It was a good decision."
It is a good thing Killings is confident in his decision, because critics often remind him and most all Division II athletes that they are the castoffs and misfits of the sports world that major colleges don't want.
That talk is fine by Killings. He invites the caustic comments from the naysayers. He thrives on them.
"I channel that stuff and feed off it," he said. "I'm a pretty positive guy. Just little stuff like that, comments they make, it really fuels the fire. I like to use it as motivation. Once you start to reap the benefits of the work, you wonder where those guys are now."
While Killings was in college, Carson-Newman played in three Division II national championships. In his senior year — his final college game — Carson-Newman lost to Northwest Missouri State in four overtimes. Killings walked off the football field that day having lost three national championship games. On a much smaller scale, he can empathize with Vikings fans, whose team has an 0-4 Super Bowl record.
"That was tough," Killings said. "You can't explain that feeling. It was my senior year, and I really wanted it for all of those guys."
Killings refocused and readjusted his goals after that game. His college football career was over, but he was convinced his football career hadn't reached its climax.
Despite being a Division II athlete, he wanted to fulfill his dream of playing in the NFL. That was realized when the San Francisco 49ers signed him as a free agent for the 2000 season. After one season of brief playing time in San Francisco, he made stints with Cleveland and Carolina last season.
Because of the rejections, Killings more than once began to plot his future down another path, one that didn't include professional football.
"It came to that point a couple of times," Killings said. "When I was released from San Francisco, then got picked up by Cleveland and then was released by them, I contemplated if it was really for me.
"I had a workout in Carolina, and after that workout I was really thinking heavily if I even wanted to play anymore. Then I was home for a while and I got a call and they wanted me to go out there, so that ended up putting fire in me."
His production from the 2001 season in Carolina was two tackles in four games. After last season the Panthers chose not to re-sign Killings, who, once again, considered life away from football.
"I started thinking again that it's getting tough to keep working out and sitting by and waiting for someone to call," Killings said. "So I thought it was time to go back to school and finish my degree because I couldn't wait forever."
Then the Vikings called. Killings came to Minnesota but entered Thanksgiving still waiting for his first play in a purple uniform. With the Vikings record perched well south of the .500 mark, Killings feels like a spectator on the sidelines, handicapped by an invisible straight-jacket that won't allow him to contribute.
"I'm on the sidelines almost in tears," he said. "That's me, a competitive spirit. I want to be on the field. I want to be on the field and relieve some tension and be in the fight with my fellow teammates. It's hard, it's hard. I go through it every week. You do all this preparation, like you're getting ready to go into war, and then you watch it from the sidelines. It's tough."
Thankfully, Killings has a support system in place.
His wife, Shavondra, and his 4-month-old son, Cadrien, cheer him on from a distance. They live at home in Miami while he spends the season in Minnesota.
"She told me to take the opportunity in Minnesota since it was there," Killings said. "But it's tough being away from them. My wife, it takes her being strong to help me to be here doing what I do. She lets me know that everything's OK at home. That allows me to focus and concentrate on what I'm doing here. It really takes both of us to make it happen. There are times when I want to be there, to hear their voices."
Especially during losing seasons, when times are tough.
"I've been on both sides of the fence," he said. "I didn't win more than three games through my whole high school career. To go from that program to winning all the time in college, I became accustomed to that.
"In my first year at San Francisco we had a bad season. Then Carolina had a turmoil season last year. Now this. It's hard, but I also know you have to fight through it."
Favorite movie: Remember the Titans, Men of Honor, Friday
Favorite actor: Denzel Washington
Favorite TV show: Married With Children
Current vehicle: 2001 Chevy Tahoe
Favorite vehicle: Cadillac Escalade
Music: R&B, hip-hop, oldies
Toughest player I've ever faced: Larry Allen
If I wasn't playing football: I'd be at home with my family.
Getting To Know: DT Cedric Killings
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