King's a leading player for James Wood football

6123dc45b48fd.imageWINCHESTER — Ryan King didn’t have much luck as a sophomore athlete during the 2019-20 school year.
After moving up to the varsity two games into the 2019 football season, King was tabbed to start at safety in the team’s eighth game of the year against Fauquier. However, on the first play of the game, he broke his ankle on a tackle attempt, ending his season.
In the spring of 2020, James Wood boys’ soccer coach Brian Sullivan expected King to make an immediate impact as a first-year varsity player at outside back, but the season wound up being canceled because of COVID-19.
Fast forward to present day, and you can make a case that King is the James Wood athletic program’s best multi-sport defensive player.
In the two-game spring football season, King led James Wood with 20 tackles and tied for the team lead with two interceptions while playing cornerback. Then in the spring soccer season, King was a center back for a historic Colonels defense that recorded a school-record 11 shutouts and allowed only eight goals in 16 games.
There are a lot of differences between playing defense in soccer and playing defense in football. But it’s not hard to see why the 5-foot-10, 170-pound King excels at both when James Wood coach Ryan Morgan describes his strengths.
“He works hard, he’s smart, and he gives everything,” Morgan said. “He’s not very big, but he’ll come up and hit. He has a lot of tenacity.”
Now that King finally has a chance to play a full season, Morgan is expecting big things from him on both sides of the ball this year. A slot receiver, King caught four passes for 66 yards last season, and he’ll likely get his fair share of targets this year with opposing defenses looking to limit the touches of James Wood’s other slot receiver, Jaden Ashby.
Ashby, who also plays in the defensive backfield, is looking forward to seeing what King can do.
“He’s one of the hardest-working guys on the team,” Ashby said. “I know he’s going to come clutch every time, every play. I have his back, he’s got my back.”
The first person in his family to play football, King started playing flag in sixth grade and tackle in seventh grade with the James Wood Middle School team.
In his sophomore year, King started out on JV, but Morgan said former Colonels JV coach Nick Manuel quickly realized he could benefit the varsity.
“[Manuel] had been here for several years, and he felt he was the best safety he had seen come through here,” Morgan said. “[King] understands his role in coverage, and he’s able to help other guys get in the right space, too.”
King didn’t get to see much time his sophomore year, and he missed out on a chance to fill in for an injured Sam Adkins at safety when he got hurt against Fauquier. As a junior though, King showed what he could do with an expanded role in Wood’s secondary.
In James Wood’s first game, King had six tackles and an interception in a 36-20 win over Sherando. Not bad, but Morgan said the following contest against Millbrook is where King truly broke out.
“He was our most reliable cover guy,” Morgan said. “And he chased some people from behind to make some tackles.
“I think he found some confidence based on that game, because he hadn’t played a ton on the varsity level. That Millbrook game, he came into his own. I think that’s the way he can play this season.”
In a game where defensive stops were hard to come by, King made one of the game’s biggest defensive plays by using the smarts that Morgan raves about.
“I saw it on film,” said King of Millbrook’s bubble screen. “I saw when the quarterback drops back and the receiver in front of me would drop back, then the outside receiver would come and block me. As soon as the receiver dropped back, I knew it was coming. I just kind of jumped in front of the pass and ran as fast as I could. It felt great.”
King’s 35-yard interception return for a touchdown with 1:40 to go in the third quarter put the Colonels up 42-28. The Pioneers never got their deficit into single digits again in James Wood’s 55-42 win.
In addition to the interception, King finished with 14 tackles, twice as many as anyone else on the team. With King doing so well with soccer, he said he sometimes questioned whether he should continue with football, but he had no doubts after that game.
“I didn’t even know I did that good until I looked at the stat sheet afterwards,” King said. “It felt great. After that game, it just made me really committed to the team.”
King showed his commitment by setting the tone with his conditioning on the first day of football practice. King said one of the benefits to playing both football and soccer is that he’s already in great shape when each sport starts practice.
“I was begging for someone to beat him in something this morning, but I think he won every sprint,” said Morgan after that first day.
Though James Wood lists King as a safety on its roster, Morgan said he could shift King around depending on what’s best for the team in a given week. King added he’s looking forward to playing a larger role as a receiver as well.
“Jaden’s probably going to be doubled a lot this year, I feel,” King said. “I feel it’s a big opportunity for me to get the ball more and make a bigger impact than last year.”
If King can deliver in games like he did that first day of practice, the Colonels should be in good shape.
“As a senior, I definitely enjoy stepping into a leadership position,” King said that first day. “You just have to kind of carry your teammates along, especially on days like today when it’s hot and people don’t want to be out here running really hard. You just have to pick up your teammates and inspire them.”
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