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Ex-Denby end goes from assembly line worker to Alabama

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Jamar King was working on the assembly line at Magna Closures in Shelby Township six years ago.

Playing college football, let alone for a power school, never crossed his mind.

But after returning to the field for the first time since 2008 last season at Mendocino College in California, where he had 63 tackles (23 for loss) and and nine sacks, King was noticed.

Tennessee came calling. Then Oregon. Then Ohio State and Alabama.

Buckeyes coach even made a verbal offer to King, who accepted, but later changed his mind.

The reason?

Nick Saban went to California to meet King and sell him on the Crimson Tide.

“It was special, like meeting a legend, really like meeting the president,” King said. “I was an Alabama fan growing up, so I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity.

“He told me that they didn’t recruit JC kids to have them sit on the bench, that I’d have a good opportunity to come in and get some playing time right away.”

So at the youthful age of 27, the 6-foot-5, 290-pound defensive end will find himself front and center at Alabama, which loss linemen A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed to the NFL. The Crimson Tide returns all-Southeastern Conference first-team end Jonathan Allen.

“I had a good year my freshman year, and had 44 tackles, 12 for loss,” King said. “Then I had a great year last season and got calls from coaches all over, Oregon, Tennessee, Central Florida, then from Ohio State and Alabama.

“This is like a dream come true, more than I could have ever imagined.”

But not too long ago, that dream was tightly tucked away.

King’s focus coming out of Detroit Denby High in 2008 — his first experience at football was his senior year — was to earn some money to help his family after his mother lost her job at a local hospital and his father was suffering from heart problems.

That’s when he went to work at Magna Closures.

Still, King remained active on the field, playing for a couple semi-pro football teams, including the Metro Detroit Wolverines.

And that’s when King got a push.

“We played together with the Metro Detroit Wolverines in 2011,” said teammate Keith Barbee, a 2002 Detroit Southeastern graduate who played College of the Desert in 2008 and Southern University in 2010. “I told him I went to JC myself at an older age (24), talked to him about the process, what it would take, how tough it would be. We started pushing him toward going to school at that time.”

Said King: “I was already thinking about going back to college to better myself, but not even thinking about playing football at the time, feeling I’m too old. A year went by and I was still thinking about it. Dre (Crosby, Wolverines owner) told me how he played at Mendocino and how they had a new coach (Frank Espy in 2014). I thought to myself, I have nothing to lose.”

That’s when King’s journey back to the football field began.

And a little more than a year later, King’s dream has taken flight.

“I get a call from and he said he was in California and he wanted me to look at his highlight tape,” said Drake Wilkins, King’s high school coach. “I did and it was like ‘Wow!’ it was impressive, and I told him that he had a chance to go big-time if he kept it up.

“And, Nick Saban came calling — and that’s big time.”