Jennifer King loves football. Not just covering the game or watching the game but actually getting on the field and playing the game. Not flag football either, King is passionate about professional tackle football.
Growing up in Reidsville North Carolina, King attended Rockingham County High School where she excelled at every sport she played including basketball, softball and track. After graduating high school King attended Guilford College in Greensboro where she continued to play basketball.
Her coaching career would start on the basketball court when King became an assistant basketball coach at Greensboro College and later the head women’s basketball coach at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte. She also coached football on the youth and high school levels but never on the biggest stages. King needed to play football to feel the rush and passion she felt as as a spectator on the gridiron. So she did.
A friend introduced King to the Women’s Football Alliance, a semi-professional football league with teams in North America. The WFA isn’t a two hand touch or flag football league. This is a full contact pads on gritty hard nosed tackle football league. King went to play for the Carolina Phoenix in Greensboro.
King wasn’t just good at football, she excelled at it. She played quarterback, wide receiver and safety for the Phoenix where she went on to win two championships. She would later play for the New York Sharks where she won another championship.
With all the experience coaching and playing football, King hoped for an opportunity to coach on the highest levels of the game. The chance soon came.
In 2017 during the Pro Bowl in Orlando, King received an invitation to attend a career forum hosted by the NFL. There she met Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. The two hit it off and soon King was a coaching intern for the team from rookie minicamp all the way through the preseason.
“It was a great experience with a top notch organization,” King said during our interview. “I learned a lot from the coaches and receivers and formed great bonds there.”
The team thought highly of King as well and when head of football development Hines Ward was looking for coaches to come over to the upstart Alliance of American Football, the coaches at the Panthers spoke glowingly of her knowledge and experience. Ward reached out to King and the two hit it off immediately. Before long King became the assistant wide receivers coach for the Arizona Hotshots, one of only three female coaches in the new league and the only one on the offensive side of the ball.
The Hotshots began their inaugural season on February 10th with a win over the Salt Lake Stallions. One of the standouts in the game was a speedy receiver named Rashad Ross. As Ross trotted off the field after a spectacular reception, cameras panned to King offering him advice on the sidelines. The television analysts spoke of King’s experience and the relationship between the coach and receiver.
King spoke about their relationship during their time together in Arizona: “Rashad is so electric and we have a cool relationship. He’s a good player, super fast and talented. I hope he gets another chance.” Ross called to let King know he had been signed by the Panthers shortly before our conversation.
After eight weeks of play, the Hotshots stood at 5-3 at the head of the West division and headed into the playoffs. Things seemed good for the young team, but something no one saw coming was about to happen.
On Monday April 1st the rumors started coming in. Whispers at first but no one, not the head coach, not the general manager, no one knew exactly what was happening. King says the team continued on as usual with practices and meetings. On Tuesday April 2nd the team was game planning for their next game. Coach Neuheisel was conducting an offensive meeting, where King was in attendance, when general manager Phil Savage walked into the room and broke the news that the league was suspending operations effective immediately.
The facility was different from that moment on and it was a tough day as the team packed up their lockers and offices. While horror stories have emerged about the treatment of other teams and players, the Hotshots were like a big family and hung out Tuesday night together sharing happy memories and saying their goodbyes to one another.
On Thursday King arrived back in North Carolina. For now she is taking some time off and trying to figure out what’s next for her.
Since being away coaching in the AAF, two more women have found jobs in the NFL with the Buccaneers hiring Lori Locust as assistant defensive line coach and Maral Javadifar as an assistant strength and conditioning coach.
King is happy for both women. “I think it’s beautiful, I wish both Lori and Maral well. Lori is a great defensive line coach and really knows her stuff.”
So what’s next for King?
“I definitely would like a shot back in the NFL,” she said.
After her experience with the AAF, would she be open to coaching in the XFL in 2020?
“Absolutely,” she stated emphatically.
Coaching professional football is in her blood. It’s what she wants to do more than anything.
So would she consider going back to playing semi-pro football in the meantime?
King answered quickly, “It’s not off the table.”