Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge senior quarterback Peyton King was sidelined for nearly two seasons due to injury and inconsistency, but plans on having a big senior season.

The unrelenting sun is beating down the backs of the Southridge football team as Peyton King lines up in the shotgun formation, flanked by fullback Zack Wilbur to his left with Derek Parnell and Isaiah Reel — King’s two primary pass-catching weapons — lined up in the slot and on the outside of the formation.

Facing the Skyhawk scout team that’s outmanned, but game for giving the Southridge starters a stiff challenge, King confidently barks out a series of signals in the stifling heat and motions Wilbur out of the backfield with a strong stomp of his right leg. Jutting his hands toward the offensive line to trigger the football, King seizes the shotgun snap, assertively drops back five chopping steps, with his eyes downfield, and plants his back leg into the Southridge field-turf.

In one fluid motion, as if he’s skipping a rock across a lake, the left-handed King steps into and unleashes a towering 50-yard bomb down the right sideline toward a racing Reel. There’s zero hesitation in King’s delivery, no protecting his surgically-repaired right leg. Heck, King doesn’t even have a brace on the mended appendage as he fully drives into the downfield chuck and hits Reel in-stride for the easy score.

To the naked eye, after watching the senior signal caller run the Skyhawks’ offense like a veteran who’s been around the block a time or two, one wouldn’t be mindful of King’s trials and tribulations the past two years. Injuries and inconsistency have prevented the 6-foot-4 senior from wholly measuring up to his fellow Metro signal callers, who are more well-recognized. Similar to his Skyhawk teammates, King’s name and talents are somewhat undiscovered and waiting to be unearthed. That depreciation, intermixed with a pair of seasons on the pine has King burning to show beyond a doubt he has the moxie to finally be Southridge’s leading man this season starting Friday on the road against Lake Oswego at 7 p.m.

“I just want to kill it this year,” said King. “I feel like I have something to prove because this is my first year starting a whole season. But, I’m excited, and I feel I will prove it. A lot of people don’t think we’re going to be that good as a team, but we’re going to surprise a lot of people. We have weapons no one really knows about. They don’t get much press, but I don’t think teams will know what to expect from us.”

‘Time to shine’

“He’s more motivated than I’ve ever seen,” said Parnell of King. “He was hurt, then he was the backup. And, now it’s his time to shine.”

“He’s miles away from where he was,” said Wilbur. “He has so much confidence the way he conducts himself and the way he talks to us on the field. We all know he’s our leader.”

“He has a work ethic that’s second to none,” said head coach Doug Dean of King. “He has the respect of his teammates because of who he is as a person. I know his expectations for himself are extremely high, so I feel I don’t need to put anything else on him.”

As a promising sophomore pressed into duty in a winner-take-all showdown with Jesuit, King cracked his right femur — the biggest, strongest bone in the human body — when one of the Crusaders was blocked into King, sending a gold helmet straight into the field general’s still rigged right knee, spraining some of the major ligaments in the limb.

King missed the rest of his sophomore season as Reza Aleaziz returned to the Skyhawks and helped Southridge reach the state quarterfinals.

Standing on the sideline was rough, King said. Watching his teammates succeed was great, but not being able to join in on the triumphants, the 2012 Metro title and the state playoff run was tough to accept. Given the opportunity to clip the all-mighty Crusaders and possibly guide Southridge the rest of the season, King was robbed by a freak accident that can happen to any football player.

Yet, King said breaking his leg was better than tearing his ACL, MCL or meniscus, as the Southridge training staff and King’s family doctors initially feared. Broken bones heal quicker than torn-up knees, and once King’s femur healed, the swelling and pain in his knee faded.

“I want to come out strong because I don’t worry about my leg anymore,” said King. “Nothing’s wrong with it, so when I dropback, there’s nothing I need to worry about.”

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge signal caller Peyton King put on 20 pounds of muscle in the off-season in order to add more zip to his deep ball and intermediate throws.

Appreciation for the game

Going into his junior year, King admittedly didn’t see as much playing time as he’d hoped coming off the injury. Senior A.J. Woodin took a bulk of the snaps under center while the still recovering King carried a clipboard and watched yet another Skyhawk team achieve success without him. But, the southpaw came out of the backup role with a better understanding of the offense, an even greater appreciation for the game of football and a revelation of about what authentic leadership is.

“Even though I wish I would’ve got my shot, I think it worked out in the end,” said King. “I learned a lot from it. I think it’s made me into more of a leader, and it made me step up. I saw what worked, what didn’t work as a leader. It was good having that senior class to show me because there were some good examples and some bad ones as well.”

King tries to lead by example, whether it’s running hard between drills, going all out during conditioning time or organizing after-practice throwing sessions with himself and the Skyhawk receiving crew. But, King said being vocal is required in certain situations.

“Sometimes you need to get on kids if they’re not doing the right thing,” said King. “You just need to be a guy who people will follow. As a quarterback and a senior, you have to be ready for what’s coming at you, but I think I’m ready.”

“(King) really earned our respect through his hard work,” said Wilbur. “We all watched him work harder than almost anyone all spring and summer, staying after practice, going early before practice. You can tell he wants to be in this position and he enjoys it.”

A new dimension

Dean anticipates the Skyhawks “being much more balanced” compared to last year’s team that ran the ball 75 percent of the time and relied on a rushing attack that was overpowering at times, but occasionally predictable in nature.

Enter King, a towering southpaw who has the capability to add a new dimension to the Skyhawk attack from the pocket. King might not have the fanfare of some of the other elite Metro signal callers, but Dean deems his field general as a hard worker who his teammates will follow.

Dean said King first and foremost is a leader who “kids want to play for and respect.” The senior is a good decision maker who has added 20 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-4 frame, which has helped the southpaw put more yards on his deep ball and add additional zip to his intermediate throws. King’s improvement, getting bigger, stronger and faster, Dean said, was “off the charts” during the offseason.Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - King is a leader who Southridge can follow according to Skyhawk head coach Doug Dean. The senior said he likes to lead by example, but will lay down the law vocally if need be.

“If you don’t have the tools to throw the ball with velocity, it doesn’t matter what your technique is,” said Dean. “Peyton really committed to what we asked him to do in terms of the training. He never missed a training session, and when he was there, he was busting his rear end. That right there was the foundation to improve his arm strength.”

Parnell said King has “great chemistry” with Southridge’s skill players, which in turn keeps the offense running smoothly, even through tough times. King and offensive coordinator Kevin Bickler have put on throwing sessions and chalk-talk sessions three or four times a week dating back to January, preparing for what potentially could be a big senior season.

“He throws hard, nice passes, and when he needs to, he can put touch on them,” said Parnell. “He’s improved a lot. He can read the defense really well, and he knows where to put the ball.”

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