Words from my heart
My COM330 journalism course is coming to an end. For my last writing assignment, I had the privilege of interviewing Nick King, KMPH sports reporter. In honor of all who have tasted the thrill of victory or agony of defeat–or both–I offer you Nick’s story.
Nick King enjoys cooking. The young, local sports reporter creates healthy main dishes, often adding onion and garlic. “Much of my cooking revolves around those two things, but it definitely always has garlic.” He loves garlic, especially the pungent smell that lingers in his kitchen. And in his kitchen hangs a list—a list of TV stations that refused to give him a shot. Not just 10, or 20. No, more than 100 stations denied King’s resume. KMPH Fox 26 is not on the list. They are giving him a shot.
As a sports reporter, King delivers stories of victory and defeat. His own agonizing stories of defeat drive him to succeed in the competitive world of broadcast journalism. He is out to prove something. He is out to prove those stations wrong. He is out to prove to everyone that Nick King is a contender.
The story began in California where Nick’s first word “ball” hinted that sports were in his blood. Before his first birthday, his family exchanged the dry heat of California for humid Pennsylvania. There, another early sign revealed his love of sports, and an interest in reporting. His fifth-grade class produced a mock newscast. Naturally, Nick was sports anchor.
Then came high school football when defeat threw its first painful blow. Nick had shared the JV quarterback position. Going into his junior year on varsity, he was determined to own it. He spent a long, sticky summer competing against “the other guy,” and captured the coveted starting spot. His future as a college quarterback—his dream—looked bright.
Hopes were high the night of the 2004 season opener. Trinity Shamrocks took the field against a top team. When the whistle blew, Nick was ready. Game on. But plays did not happen. Shamrocks were scoreless at the end of third quarter, and down by three or four touchdowns. “I was struggling. Our offense was going nowhere, so they pulled me.” From the sideline, the deflated starter watched the eager backup turn the game around. Offense started moving and points were scored, but it was too late.
Still stinging from the weekend loss, Nick went to school on Monday. Devastating news was waiting. “We’re going to switch,” the coach said. The other guy was named starter for the rest of the season. It didn’t make sense. “I went through this whole thing during the summer, won the job, and now in three quarters, I’ve apparently lost it?” He thought he could still play. He had always been one of the best. Playing quarterback was all he wanted to do, yet the switch happened. And it hurt.
Nick’s on-field struggle followed him. “That was a tough year,” he remembers. “Basketball didn’t go well, and I was so down on sports and life that I didn’t even play baseball.” Then at some point during late spring or early summer, it hit him. Something had to change if he was going to have a good senior year. “I thought I was working hard, but losing the starting spot pushed me to work even harder.” Resolved, Nick turned his football, basketball and baseball seasons around. “All three of those sports ended on a much higher note. I really loved my senior year.” But he never played quarterback again.
A dream had died, yet Nick kept working hard. He soon focused on another dream—becoming a sports reporter. The Journalism and Mass Communication program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was a perfect fit. And the program director, a master of his craft. Dr. Charlie Tuggle poured excellence into his students and Nick soaked it in. “He stood out,” Dr. Tuggle said. “He paid attention to details and deadlines. He knew how to find ‘gold coins,’ the small things that make a story stand out.” The ability to pick up on concepts and put them into practice made Nick King a top student—a name to remember in broadcast journalism.
Nick graduated from UNC with the program’s mantra deeply rooted: Work hard, play hard, and know when to do which one. “He knew when to do which one,” Dr. Tuggle confirmed. Working hard had become the backbone of Nick’s life. A strong work ethic had been instilled by his father, a Hershey’s Ice Cream truck driver with no college education. The rookie reporter would need a strong backbone to make it in “the real world.”
Eager to kick off his career, Nick sent resumes and demo reels to TV stations nationwide. Within days, he felt the stunning blow of defeat again, like a boxer being pounded round after round. Station after station rejected him, and that’s when “the list” was born. Almost sixty names were added after graduation. Finally, WSET-TV in Virginia gave him a shot. One year later, he decided to move on. Thirty more stations made the list. Then KODE-TV in Missouri offered him a job.
During Nick’s early days of producing, shooting, editing, writing, reporting, and anchoring, he realized something. He liked telling stories more than reading game highlights or being an anchor. “The people I met and the stories they told me stuck with me more than any game highlights that I would ever read or shoot.”
About that time, Nick heard NFL Hall of Famer Ed Sabol quote an Indian proverb: Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever. “I felt the quote was absolutely true, and I knew—that’s what I want!” It made sense. Nick’s mom had planted the seed years ago. She had worked in a library and encouraged reading. Stories were intrinsically woven into his being.
With newfound passion for storytelling, Nick decided it was time for another change. Twenty names were added to his list before he signed a contract with KMPH. It was worth the wait. Nick would be going home to California, a long-held dream. His dad’s stories about surfing under California’s summer sun had lived in his heart since age five. He knew that seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time would be unforgettable.
The big day arrived five months after landing in California. Nick’s brother visited and together they experienced the thrill of driving along Highway 1. “Man . . . just unbelievable . . . beautiful!” That event might even rival his thrill-of-victory moment in college. During a pickup basketball game on campus, he floated his 6′ 2″ frame high over his buddies, and BAM! Amazing dunk! “It didn’t mean anything because it was pickup basketball,” Nick said, “but actually doing that was legitimately the best feeling I’ve ever had playing sports.”
Dunking did not come easy, just like finding a job did not come easy. “It’s really hard in this industry, but it goes back to the quarterback thing, like Tom Brady.” Nick was referring to Brady’s “defiant rise” from 199th draft pick to NFL champion. Brady had a list. His list included the six quarterbacks who had been selected before him. Those names—featured in “The Brady 6” documentary—fueled Brady’s determination to work harder than ever. He was out to prove something. He was out to prove those NFL teams wrong for not selecting him. And he did it. In historic fashion.
Nick was born with a Brady spirit. He wants to prove to everyone what he can do. “I didn’t make it as far as I thought I would as an actual athlete,” he said, “but now I’m going to make it as far I can as a reporter or broadcaster.” And as Dr. Tuggle said, “Even if journalism as we know it goes away, so what? There will always be a need for a storyteller, no matter what the platform.”
Nick King, storyteller, is a contender. His story is not over. For now, it leaves off where it began—in California. Defeat drives him, and he knows things will happen if he keeps working hard. If he ever forgets, a list will remind him—a list that hangs in a kitchen where garlic is king.
Photo courtesy of Nick King