Back-to-back state football championships, but there’s something bigger

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Cartersville head coach Joey King congratulates his team after another score this season. SCOTT BARKLEY/Special

Cartersville head coach Joey King congratulates his team after another score this season. SCOTT BARKLEY/Special

Joey King has done a lot of things in the three years he’s been Cartersville High School’s head football coach. Under his leadership the Purple Hurricanes have won three region championships and two state titles, the latest one on Saturday by drumming Thomson 58-7. In addition, his tenure has brought 42 wins in 45 games for CHS. But the morning after his latest championship, he finally did something he hadn’t in a long, long time.

Joey King took a Sunday afternoon nap.

It taxes you, being the football coach of a highly successful program with higher expectations. King doesn’t even venture to approximate his hourly work week. But, the physical toll only makes up part of being a coach. Your title includes mentor, teacher, and father-figure. The 33-year-old King welcomes all those responsibilities, because if someone else hadn’t years ago he might not be where he is today.

People from different places

Having grown up without a father, King thanks a host of people in the community for teaching him principles he passes along to his players today. He hasn’t forgotten their contributions.

“I had a lot of people pour into me from a lot of different places and walks of life,” he said, “whether it was older people from my church to rec league coaches to my high school coaches, to some good men in the community to my grandparents … they kept a positive outlook on my life.”

Perhaps the biggest was his grandfather Austin Joe Kines, who died Nov. 2. “He was a prisoner of war in World War II … spent time in three concentration camps in Germany, a child during the Great Depression, and a member of The Greatest Generation who taught me to work hard and never have your hand out,” King remembers.

“That’s been my mindset. Anything I got – especially in the realm of athletics – I was going to have to work hard for it.”

Where it comes from

Whenever the debate crops up over faith in schools, it seems to either be about a Christmas play or point towards football. Examples include a coach leading his team in a voluntary prayer, cheerleaders writing Bible verses on banners, or baptisms following a student revival.

Coaches like King see what they do as a ministry. Those unfamiliar with that term in the proper context immediately picture an authority figure passing out gospel tracts and preaching sermons on hell in the locker room, then going out to practice at which point all players not enrolled in a Sunday School are ordered to run laps as punishment. 

The reality is men like King benefited from Gospel principles of grace, forgiveness, discipline, and redemption. He sees the need for those same principles it all the time.

“I base my life on the word of God and that’s what I try to live on day-in and day-out,” he says from his office in the Cartersville field house. “I know it if was left up to me I’d mess everything up.”

The standard expected

Read your opinion section whenever faith in the public square comes up. For some reason it becomes a foreign concept for one’s relationship with God to spill over into other areas of his or her life. Many call for that faith to go only as far as the church door. 

Saturday morning after opening the 2016 football season with a win over defending AAAAA state champion Allatoona, King was instructing future Hurricanes in a camp. SCOTT BARKLEY/Special

Saturday morning after opening the 2016 football season with a win over defending AAAAA state champion Allatoona, King was instructing future Hurricanes in a camp. SCOTT BARKLEY/Special

For King, that’s one standard he simply can’t meet.

“It’s not just my coaching philosophy. My faith shapes everything I do,” he testifies. 

One area where King, a member of Cartersville First Baptist, can identify with ministers is that area of discipline versus grace. Football players, just like church members, need to be confronted before restoration or – recommitment to the team – can take place. Tough love is still love. 

“I love all these kids, and they come from different backgrounds. I’m going to push them as a coach and mentor and make things hard on them, but some don’t handle it well. The easy thing to do would be telling them to hit the road. But, if God did that with me every time I messed up I don’t know where I’d be. His grace is sufficient.”

What people forget about Jesus

There are consequences, King stresses. But, he’s going to give chances for a teenager to overcome knucklehead-teenager decisions. 

“We have to remember Jesus is the lion and the lamb. A lot of people forget that. They think He’s the lamb and He’s going to love anything I do.”

And that coaching philosophy came from King’s own experience as a player. John Hill coached five seasons at Camden County High School before going to Cedartown, where he would remain for his 30-year career. “He had the ‘mean-coach’ thing going on but he’s a good guy. His faith was a big part of what he did,” says King. 

“Then at Carson-Newman I played for Ken Sparks, a phenomenal man and one of the winningest coaches in college football. I remember being on my official visit with my mom sitting in his office. His first question wasn’t about football but my relationship with the Lord. 

“That shook me. I knew my relationship with God was okay, but it could be better.”

Grounded in the Gospel

His relationship with God got much better, as did the leadership qualities King came to see – and still does – tied to the Gospel. His teammates at Carson-Newman saw it too, voting King as a team captain … while the backup quarterback. 

And even though his name is the one you hear most, he knows you can’t do it without great players, coaches, and most of all, an understanding wife. Ashley King, he’d tell you, and others like her are the real MVPs. “You can’t place a value too high on them,” he says.

Sparks, King remembers, would constantly ask his players, “How’s your heart?” Wins and state titles are great, but there’s something much bigger to be playing for. 

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