Everyone has something that gives them chills down their spine, something that makes the hair stand up on the back of their neck.
For many Virginia Tech fans, Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” does just that. The excitement they get when they hear the song makes them want to jump up and down where they stand and begin the “Let’s Go Ho-Kies” cheer.
At the top of most Hokie fans' wish lists, is running out of the tunnel and onto Worsham Field at Lane Stadium on a Thursday night as the song thunders in the background.
Chris King, 24, gets to experience that feeling every time the Hokies play a game. The Carroll County native, who graduated from CCHS in 2003, is a graduate assistant for the Virginia Tech football team. He remembers the first time he entered Lane Stadium with the football team like it was yesterday.
“Bone chilling,” King said of the feeling he got as he prepared to take the field. “Like no other feeling. I can honestly say the first time that I ran through the tunnel was my senior year. It was a Thursday night game against Clemson, the fireworks were going off and you walk out of the locker room and immediately hear “Enter Sandman” and just see the stadium looking like it is moving from all the jumping… at that point is when I got chills.”
King said that, once he got inside the tunnel leading to the field, things got silent.
But then...“You run out and it is the loudest, most joyful noise these two ears have ever heard,” he said of the more than 65,000 screaming Hokie fans.
King became a graduate assistant after working for Olympic Sports at the school for two and a half years.
During that time, King said he worked primarily with the school’s basketball team.
“I received the Olympic Sports job the first semester I came to Tech,” he said. “Then I came to the football offices and asked them if there was anything I could do and they sent me to Lester Karlin [the team’s equipment manager].”
King said Karlin sent him to another person, Eric Cross, who chose him to work as a volunteer.
“That’s how I started working here,” King said of his job, which now includes being Head Coach Frank Beamer’s sidekick during games. “I feel like God has blessed me big time to get to do what I do everyday.”
King originally was not accepted to Virginia Tech out of high school, and attended two different schools prior to being accepted. “And now… having the honor to work for Virginia Tech football is definitely a blessing from God.”
King works under Karlin and has eight student managers below him. “As managers, we are in charge of all team equipment, from jerseys, to helmets, to shoulder pads to cleats. We set up the pre-game locker room, including polishing helmets, setting a program in each locker and a pack of gum.”
King and his co-workers also work alongside the coaches during football practice.
Jobs during practice include spotting the footballs in the right places, blowing the horn to switch periods and holding personnel cards for the defense.
“The coaches give us the practice schedule and what they need and we are in charge of having everything set up for them,” said King. “I assign a student manager for each coach. For example, Brian Equi, a student manager for me, is assigned to Coach [Torrian] Gray, the defensive backs coach. During practice, he has the hardest job of any manager, because coach works him into drills more than any other coach.”
During the games, however, King is what he described as a “cater” to Beamer. His duties include getting him water, holding his special teams plays, holding his sunglasses and making sure he doesn’t completely fall down when a play is coming his way.
When King first got the job, he was somewhat starstruck by being so close to the man who has completely built the VT football program from the ground and turned it into a national powerhouse.
“Being beside Coach Beamer, at first, was a little nerve-racking,” he said. “I didn’t really know how to act during a game on the sideline. I didn’t know if I was supposed to cheer or not—can I get upset with the refs?—I didn’t know.”
King noted that he was unsure how to react to the referees, because they could actually hear them on the field.
After the first couple of games, he got used to it and began having fun with it.
“Working on game day is what got me through the long hours during the week. My first year, I was working from nine in the morning until about 10 at night, with a one-hour lunch break. This year, I have had more free time and it helped out a lot, because I was starting to get burned out.”
During the season, King’s face was featured hundreds of times on major television networks, such as ESPN and Fox Sports.
In fact, during the team’s Orange Bowl victory on Jan. 1, King was seen trying to grab Beamer’s headset as the coach got doused with Gatorade.
King got a little Gatorade on himself, as well.
Being on TV was interesting for him, but it only served one real purpose—being able to say hello to his family.
(King is the son of Jerry and Lucy King of Hillsville, VA)
“The only thing that I liked about it was making signs so I could say hi to my family,” he said. “For example, some games I would tell my family, ‘when I touch my chin, I’m saying hi,’ or sometimes my ear. But I had no idea if I’m ever on TV, so that didn’t really ever work.”
But the main person King said hello to on TV was his brother Jon, a former Hokie Bird and resident of California with his wife Angelee.
King said he and his brother also set the signals before each game, as a special way to say 'hello' across the country.
Inside the Locker Room
Before a game, King said the players always want special gear.
Whether it be the bicep bands—which King said is worn for no purpose other than to show a Nike swoosh—or putting on and taking off their visors, extra socks or Sharpie markers to write on their tape and/or mouthpiece, players are always asking for something.
In the time leading up to kick-off, King said the locker room is usually very quiet.
“Each player gets a program in their locker and a pack of chewing gum,” he said. “They all just sit in their locker and listen to music and read the program.”
One moment King remembers most from this past season was prior to the North Carolina game, when running back Darren Evans put the entire pack of gum in his mouth.
“I don’t know if he does this for good luck or if he just wanted to try it, but I thought it was hilarious.”
King said he enjoys looking around the locker room and seeing what the players are doing before the game. This, he said, shows where the player’s true hearts really are, and that it is more than just a game.
“Last year, Macho [Harris] and Josh Morgan would sit in the corner and read scripture verses out of the Bible to each other, it was just awesome to see that. And this year, Kenny Lewis Jr. and Dustin Pickle… getting the whole team in a circle for prayer, it just makes the whole experience of working with these guys everyday that much sweeter.
It’s easy to forget sometimes that the players—nationally known stars, some of whom will be future millionaires in the National Football League—are just everyday students at Virginia Tech.
King interacts with the players every day. “I work with the equipment, and that is what the players want. That is why they go to certain schools—it’s for the gear.”
King said defensive end Jason Worilds actually told him last year that he selected Virginia Tech after watching the Gator Bowl because the Hokies were wearing orange cleats with orange visors.
“Some fans may get upset about us wearing orange jerseys,” King said. “But that is what these players want—gear.”
King talks to the players every day, from the first day they arrive on campus, until the time they go home for the summer.
“They are so much fun to be around, great guys,” he said of the players. “Without them, my job would get pretty old.” On an average day, King said it was common for players such as quarterback Tyrod Taylor to come by his desk and hang out.
“But, there is usually a motive to that,” King said of Taylor’s appearances. “Getting some new socks or new cleats… or something.” When he first started working at Virginia Tech, King said it was “awesome” to see the players every day.
“After awhile, you realize they are just kids. They are 18- and 19-year-old kids. So you forget about them from a fan aspect and just think of them as another student.”
King has become especially close with standout defensive player Orion Martin.
Both Martin’s wife and King’s girlfriend live in Atlanta, and King said they would often car-pool together to make visits. “He is an awesome guy,” King said of Martin. “Me and Orion went to a Christian Sports Camp in Colorado together a couple summers ago and that is where our friendship began to grow. We both have the same values in our desire to live for God, so that is how we clicked.”
Trips Around the Conference
One advantage to being a graduate assistant for a football team is the various trips across the country. This year, King made a trip to Lincoln, Neb. and four visits to Florida.
King’s favorite trips of the 2008 season were Charlotte, N.C., and Tampa Bay, Fla., for the ACC Championship Game.
Most wouldn’t think Charlotte wouldn't hold comparison, being less than two hours from home, but King said the trip was especially important because his family, girlfriend Morgann and one of his good friends, Joel, were all able to come.
“Having them there together just made that day amazing, because their support is what gets me through the long hours I work in this job,” he said. “I know we lost that game, but that is a big part of what I have learned these last two years. Being a part of a football team is not just about winning or losing, it’s about building relationships, and there is nothing better than looking up in the stands and seeing them there.
“God has blessed me to get them tickets on the front row, 50-yard line, for the last two seasons. And yes, the feeling I get when I see them supporting me in the stands is better than the one I get when I run out of the tunnel.”
King mentioned the Tampa Trip because he was sent down early on a private jet—with Beamer and Athletic Director Jim Weaver—to set the locker room up before the team arrived.
“It is one moment I will not forget,” he said. He may not forget it, but it was secondary to another moment during the trip. King said the team chaplain, Johnny Shelton, asked him to share his testimony at team chapel the Friday night before the ACC Championship game.
This moment is when 30 to 40 players come together just to hear the word of God. “It is a great share time for the players to hear praises and share struggles that they are all going through.” King also visited one of the most historic stadiums in college football when the team went to Nebraska.
Again, he was flown out early to set the team’s locker room up, and was blown away by the school’s stadium and field. “The locker room we were in was Nebraska’s old one, so it was extremely nice. The hallway walking back to the locker is bright red and has every schedule with wins and losses and final rankings on it.”
King said that was one of the most impressive things he had seen and was amazed to see the championships and things the team has accomplished over the years. Virginia Tech left with a win, but King said he also remembers the game because he had his picture taken with ESPN’s field reporter, Erin Andrews.
King was also blown away by the hospitality the fans and players showed towards the Hokies. “I literally thought I was dreaming, it was so unusual.”
While most of the time spent on the trips is considered “business.” King said one of the things he most enjoys is an early morning run before every game to see the place they were staying and really experience it.
“I have to say, the best place to run would have to be Jacksonville. The weather was awesome, and our hotel was surrounded by a lake, so running around it just made me thankful for where I was and what I was doing at this place.”
Future in Football
King loves football, and he knows it’s the career he wants to pursue. Whether it is on the professional, college or even high school level, King has a dream for each.
If he moves on to an NFL team, King hopes to become a scout. If he's in a major college program, he hopes to be in recruiting or operations. As for a smaller college team, he hopes he could find a job in recruiting or coaching.
If he lands a job at the high school level, he hopes to coach. “Right now, my eyes are really just set on helping young kids grow, and going where God puts me,” he said.
Football may be his career path, but God is the one leading the way.
This story was a feature story I wrote for the tri-weekly newspaper I write for—www.galaxgazette.com. It is part of our paper's Twin County Living Section and appears in the Friday, Jan. 16 edition.
It also appears on my sports blog: Sports101.