Demario King will go to great lengths for the game he loves.
During his sophomore season at Cerritos College in 2021, King — who signed with Washington in December — lived with his brother in Temecula, Calif. Having already completed his associate degree, he made a daily one-hour, 45-minute drive to Cerritos to continue his football career.
Every practice. Every game. Two drives, every day.
“But he never missed anything,” said Cerritos College head football coach Dean Grosfeld, who named King a captain for his sophomore season. “He never complained. He was a model citizen through some adversity. I always tell people, ‘It’s actions. It’s not words. And if it’s words, the actions better match ‘em.’ He matched everything.”
In life, King has taken the long road. Despite scoring 25 touchdowns in his senior season as a wide receiver and safety at Los Alamitos High School in 2018, academic issues forced King to take the junior college track. He enrolled in his first class at Cerritos during the spring semester of his senior year at Los Alamitos, which allowed him to immediately train with his future team.
“He enrolled in a class and he started working out with us in the spring, and we knew we had something special,” Grosfeld said.
Despite filling a 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame, King ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. He was a devastating tackler with wide receiver hands and a willingness to learn.
But after his true freshman season, football stopped.
And when the 2020 season was canceled due to the pandemic, King pondered pursuing a different path. He entertained the idea of quitting football and becoming a firefighter, even completing his EMT (emergency medical technician) certification alongside his schoolwork.
“It’s an honorable job, good retirement, good pension,” King said of the appeal of firefighting. “I have a bunch of friends who are firefighters, and my major is child development. After football, I either want to be a firefighter or work with kids.”
Just not quite yet.
King ultimately returned to the team for the 2021 season, finishing second on Cerritos with 57 tackles and a team-high seven pass breakups in 11 games. And, because of a teammate’s injury, he did so while switching positions in the middle of the season — moving from free safety to a hybrid “nickel” position that operates more like a weakside linebacker.
“Because he’s a really good-looking kid and he’s got length, he just really excelled at the position. He kind of found a home there,” Grosfeld said. “Obviously when you’ve been a free safety your whole life and a wide receiver you like playing back there, so it was out of his comfort zone. But you could never, ever have told anybody that he hadn’t played there his entire career. That’s how well he did it.”
He did it so well, in fact, that King began to earn FBS offers — from Fresno State, Arizona State and Arizona. And when Fresno State head coach Kalen DeBoer and cornerbacks coach Julius “Juice” Brown — King’s primary recruiter — went to Washington, the offer carried over as well.
“They were the first coaching staff (Fresno State) to show me love out of junior college, and growing up, Washington was my dream school,” King said. “I came there in eighth grade and visited the campus. It was one of the most beautiful campuses I’d ever seen in person. Ever since eighth grade, coming to a camp, my whole goal was to go to Washington.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that when King was told Washington wanted him, he committed on the spot.
And when King arrived in Seattle for the winter quarter, he did so as a linebacker — though it’s a position he has (technically) never played. UW’s depth on the second level has dwindled over the last several seasons — with linebackers Jackson Sirmon (Cal) and M.J. Tafisi (Utah State) transferring away in recent months, and Miki Ah You and Will Latu leaving the team prior to the 2021 season.
As it stands, UW will enter spring practice with just five scholarship linebackers: junior Edefuan Ulofoshio, sophomores Carson Bruener, Daniel Heimuli and Alphonzo Tuputala, and King.
Outside of his time as a hybrid “nickel” in the box in 2021, King has precious little experience at linebacker. But according to Grosfeld, it’s the spot where he’s most set up to succeed.
“We don’t say this often about people, or to kids, because we don’t want to get them out of sorts: but we felt like if Demario could play that outside (linebacker) position, then he could play on Sunday,” Grosfeld said. “But sometimes when you tell a safety that they’re going to go play linebacker, their eyes roll. Now you’ve changed from the whole glamour of, ‘I’m a skill guy,’ to ‘I’m an in-the-box guy.’
“Demario’s big. He’s got a big frame and he’s going to fill that frame out. There’s not a whole lot of safeties in the NFL that are getting close to 6-foot-4 and are going to be at some point in their career 230 (pounds). You don’t see that a whole lot. But at linebacker, that’s what they are.”
As for King, he doesn’t care which position he plays … as long as he plays.
And at Washington, the work has already begun.
As he immerses himself in winter workouts, King told The Times on Tuesday that “the first week was difficult, I’m not going to lie. It was very difficult. But now, going into my second week and a half, I’m getting used to it. My body’s getting used to it, and I’m feeling good.”
When asked about his adjustment to Washington, King added that “I love this team already. The whole team is good people. Everyone is funny. They’ll welcome you with open arms, showed me love since day one when I landed in Seattle. I love it here. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Of course, for King — who has two seasons of eligibility remaining — the adjustment process is barely beginning. At Washington, he’ll have to adapt to the speed of Pac-12 play, digest UW’s defensive system and learn the responsibilities and technique at linebacker — all while familiarizing himself with a new team, city and coaching staff.
Still, Grosfeld expects to see him make an immediate impact on Montlake.
“I know for a fact that, talking to the coaches, they wouldn’t have taken him if they didn’t need help right now,” Grosfeld said. “And we’re not going to sell a lemon to anybody, either. We knew they needed and help and we said, ‘Hey, we know he can help you.’ He can play right now.”
That’s one thing that hasn’t changed. Grosfeld insists King “has always been a Division I talent.”
Now, despite taking the long road to Seattle, the future firefighter gets to prove that he can play.
“I’m coming from juco, so I really had nothing. So being at Washington, I’m hungry,” King said. “I just want to be on top of the depth chart in everything I do, from lifting to running and knowing the plays. I just want to be on top. I’m just hungry to be here.”