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The Path J.D. King is Taking to Stardom is Familiar



At face value – quite literally – Justice Hill and freshman running back J.D. King are a hard sell as equals, but there is so much more to Oklahoma State’s new No. 2 back than a few extra pounds.

When Hill was a freshman, it wasn’t until fall camp when he creeped into serious conversations about the Cowboys’ running back picture. Fans slowly adapted to the idea of a freshman providing meaningful contributions in a backfield that featured Chris Carson, Rennie Childs and a fellow with the last name Sanders.

But when Hill came out in the season-opening series against Southeastern Louisiana last year, confidence somehow rained over Boone Pickens Stadium that another first-year back could and would make a difference. Phantoms of Joe Randle and Kendall Hunter pranced through our minds at who this Hill cat might end up being.

That is the exact vibe King is giving off in 2017, and when he comes in against Tulsa on Thursday, few people will feel doubt. Because it’s all too familiar.

The relationship between Hill and King goes far deeper than a feeling. It’s traced to their mindsets, their intelligence and their roots. But again, the eye test makes that a blind comparison.

Hill came out of Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa only holding four offers: Kansas, Houston, Louisville and OSU. When he committed to coach Mike Gundy and the Cowboys, there was little doubt a verbal promise wouldn’t translate to a written one. He was the first one in OSU’s 2016 recruiting class.

“I’ve watched OSU games since I was little. I just fell in love with the OSU program,” he told The Tulsa World when he committed. “I wanted to commit early because of the security of it. I know where I’m going. I love OSU football, and I wanted to be the first one to commit.”

OSU loved him enough, too, to give him a scholarship, but few others did in the same way. Hill was a three-star prospect who weighed a buck-71, according to 247 Sports, and had the physique of someone who dreaded the weight room.

Contrastingly, King is a freak. He was 5-foot-11, 205 pounds – in high school.

He was lifting Rob Glass-type weights before he even committed.

Having been offered 14 times, King was a more sought-after prep at Fitzgerald High School in Georgia, but his rating told a different story. A recognizable one.

Both were 3-star prospects coming out of high school, and that’s about all they had in common on the field. That’s where the story begins to diverge. Although King and Hill are wildly different types of players, they’re cut from the same cloth.

“J.D. is a completely different athlete body-wise,” Gundy said. “Intelligence-wise, very similar.”

Hill, having burst into the spotlight, said there was a methodology to why he was in that season-opening series last year and why King likely will be, too, this time around. They understand, and as Gundy likes to say, they’ve “bought in” with the culture at OSU.

“If he was struggling in that area, we wouldn’t play him,” Gundy said about King’s mental makeup. “Even though a young man has talent, it’s not fair to put him out there unless they’re ready physically and mentally. And you’re talking about two very bright kids.”

Hill said the game comes to King, much like it did for himself at this time last year. There isn’t too much thinking involved, not too much analysis.

Just ball.

“When I got here, I pretty much did the same thing,” Hill said. “Wasn’t much of a transition for me. I just came out here and played, and so that’s one thing that sticks out about him.”

There is something to be said about that. Maybe that’s why Chris Carson struggled when he got to OSU from Butler Community College. A back’s ability to adapt on the fly has to be paramount when you consider the playbook, the steps and cuts, the chemistry, the blocking schemes and the execution of all those things.

Carson always had all the intangibles, which was why it was so challenging to watch him play in that first season. With Hill, and as we will probably see with King, the “get it” factor is huge.

Mike Gundy News Conference

Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy previews the 2017 season opener vs. Tulsa.

Posted by Oklahoma State Athletics on Friday, August 25, 2017

“Some guys, they need a little bit more time,” Hill said. “So redshirting sometimes isn’t a bad thing because they need some time to mature.”

It’s strange to think about a teenager being prepared to run with 22-year-old men looking to make a career out of hitting people, but that’s where OSU has been over the past two seasons. Gundy said a lot of that readiness comes from their upbringing, different but similar at the same time.

So when you see a back come trotting onto the field against Tulsa on Thursday wearing Hill’s old No. 27 jersey and looking about 30 pounds heavier, have no doubts. Although Hill and King have come up on different sides of the same coin, their paths are intertwined.

“Hill obviously comes from a great background over at Booker T., and then King comes from a very tradition-rich area down there where they play big-time football,” Gundy said. “And that has helped them develop and give them a feel for what it takes to play at this level  — we think.

“We know with Hill. But we’ll find out with the other one.”

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