No matter how hard he tried, D’Eriq King couldn’t ignore Ed Oliver as the 6-2, 240-pound defensive tackle made his way off the practice field Tuesday at the University of Houston.
“That’s D’Eriq King,” Oliver playfully called out. “I love D’Eriq King. D’Eriq King is the best person ever.”
King also couldn’t ignore Houston head coach Tom Herman last December after the former Manvel dual-threat quarterback decommitted from TCU and reopened his recruiting. The appeal of working with Herman and offensive coordinator Major Applewhite was too much for King to pass up, and less than two weeks after reopening his recruitment, the four-star recruit announced he was committing to UH.
“I trust coach Herman and coach Applewhite with everything in me,” King said. “I would do anything for those guys.”
Just three games into his college career, King has proved it.
After preseason injuries to the Cougars’ leading slot receiver candidates, Ra’Shaad Samples (concussion) and Marquez Stevenson (broken collar bone), Herman called King into his office and asked the true freshman quarterback if he’d be willing to make the move to wide receiver.
“Me, I would do anything for the team, so I was like, ‘Yes, sir,’” said King, who through three games has eight receptions for 56 yards, along with 10 rushes for 36 yards.
King’s team-first attitude, in addition to his athleticism, drew effusive praise from Applewhite.
“He’s a very selfless person,” Applewhite said. “He understands the team concept. He’ll do anything we want him to do. That’s the great thing about him, is that attitude.
“There are a lot of guys with great athleticism, and he’s got that, too, but the thing I love about him is his willingness to learn, his willingness to do whatever we ask of him. Just his personality, he’s a natural leader.”
And in last Thursday’s 40-16 win at Cincinnati, King also started returning punts for the sixth-ranked Cougars.
“I was all for it,” King said.
Steven Dunbar opened the season as Houston’s primary punt returner, but because of a lack of depth at wide receiver, Dunbar was playing about 90 reps per game, according to Herman.
Having King return punts not only gave Dunbar a break from the field, but it also provided the coaching staff another way to get King, who returned one punt against Cincinnati for 8 yards, on the field and take advantage of his athleticism.
“He’s one of the most dynamic, explosive guys with the ball in his hands, and he’s very reliable,” Herman said. “If we’re going to play him, if we’re not going to redshirt him, let’s use him as much as we can.”
While King has been willing to help the team any way he can, he still wants the chance to play quarterback. Herman promised King the opportunity to compete for the starting QB job next season.
“I’ve been playing quarterback all my life, so I’ll do everything to compete and win the job next year,” King said.
Houston’s current starting quarterback, senior Greg Ward Jr., has taken King under his wing. As soon as King arrived on campus June 1, he and Ward, who also split time as a receiver and punt returner during his first two seasons, started watching film together.
“He was teaching me different coverages, different blitzes and just helping me learn the offense fully, 100 percent,” King said.
While running Manvel’s spread offense, King excelled by simply “looking for grass,” finishing his high school career with more than 10,000 yards passing and topping 3,000 yards rushing. However, at UH, King has had to adjust to learning progressions and reads, which has been the most challenging part of the transition from high school to college, he said.
With Ward sidelined because of a shoulder injury, King took his first snaps at quarterback late in the Cougars’ 42-0 win over Lamar on Sept. 10.
While juggling his time at quarterback, wide receiver and as a punt returner, King has relied on the coaching staff to ease the transition.
“We have great coaches, so I listen to everything my coaches say,” King said. “I try to do anything I can to help and be a part of this team. I just love this team with all my heart.”
After all, the coaches, especially Herman and Applewhite, are the reason why King is at UH.
“These coaches are not like any other coaches in the country,” King said.
Anthony Oppermann is a sports copy editor for The Daily News. He can be reached at anthony. email@example.com.