Texas Longhorn punter Alex King honors dad through football


Lawrence Peart

Alex King’s father introduced him to the world of athletics. He went into college football following in the footsteps of his father, and he continues his legacy with his play.

Chris Hummer

Alex King was finished with football.

The punter, who grew up tossing the ball around with his dad, felt lost and ready to move on to something different.

“At the end of the season I was totally exhausted emotionally and just needed some time,” Alex King said. “I just wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do.”

He was emotionally drained after the toughest three-month stretch of his life. His dad, Dr. Michael King, died by suicide Oct. 7, 2011. With a year of eligibility remaining after the season, Alex felt compelled to take a different path.

History degree in hand, he spent a day with an investment finance company in New York.

In New York, something clicked. The business world wasn’t for him: he belonged on a football field.


Alex King was born and bred a football player. His dad played quarterback at Hampden-Sydney College and his uncles, John Mack and Geoff King, played at Duke and North Carolina, respectively.

Dr. King spent hours teaching Alex the nuances of the quarterback position, refined his punting abilities and even showed him a few things on the basketball court.

“My dad definitely put a lot of pressure on Alex to succeed and be the best from a very young age,” Alex’s oldest sister, Katie, said. She describes her brother’s athletic accomplishments as “ridiculous.”

But Alex thrived on it. He dropped bucket after bucket on the hardwood, and filled up box scores during his time in high school. Alex walked on at Duke, the school Mack, sister Katie and brother Michael King attended.

Alex took the starting punter spot from Kevin Jones as a junior in 2010 and never gave it up. He solidified his role there and for a year, life was great. 
Until that fateful day.


Dr. King’s family knew he wasn’t well. It was just a part of the family dynamic growing up. But they loved him all the same.

Dr. King was an orthopedic surgeon who dedicated his life to helping people. He was active in the Winston-Salem community in North Carolina and volunteered as the on-call doctor at local high school football games. He stood on the sidelines every Friday for years, ready to assist young athletes, observing the game he loved and aiding the community that represented a huge piece of his life.

The King children, Alex and his three siblings — Katie, Michael and Marylynn — remember their childhood home as a walk-in infirmary for local high school athletes. Kids filed in and out on the weekends for free care at the gentle hands of Dr. King.

“Dad did everything on the kitchen counter,” Katie said. “Dad would look at arms, shoulders and legs. He applied braces, bandages and splints, everything short of an X-ray. He would just put on splint on and say, ‘Come see me at the office on Monday.’”

Under the surface, Dr. King struggled. He battled depression and rheumatoid arthritis. Despite the family’s best efforts to lift his spirits, he felt he’d been stripped of a happiness that would never return.

“He couldn’t work anymore,” Alex King said. “He was an orthopedic surgeon, and his work was everything. Helping people was his whole life. His job was everything to him. I think he just kind of felt like he didn’t have much else to give.”

On the Friday morning of Duke’s bye week, Dr. King died by suicide. The act was planned, the notes left behind attested to that. But it was a raw moment for the family Dr. King left behind.

“We were disappointed and kind of shocked he went through with it,” Katie said. “But not all that surprised because he hadn’t been that well.”


The period from that Friday to the next Saturday — the day of Alex’s first game since his dad’s death — was one of the toughest stretches of Alex’s life.

Four days after Dr. Kings’ death, more than 1,200 people gathered for his funeral, including Duke’s entire coaching staff and many of Alex’s teammates.

Alex was ready to attend, but he didn’t have a pair of dress shoes. Katie said Alex was often at a loss to find attire for formal occasions. Since he and his dad wore the same size, Alex would often sneak into his dad’s closet and borrow clothes. He did so one last time on this occasion. 

Alex strode onto the stage wearing a pair of his dad’s dress shoes and talked about wanting to be as good a father as his dad was someday.

Alex said, “Those are some pretty big shoes to fill.” But then he paused, glancing down at his borrowed pair of shoes, and in a completely off-the-cuff line said, “I’m actually wearing his shoes right now and they fit pretty well.”

That line set off a rumble of laughter and thousands of tears.

But only eight days later Alex returned to the field, this time in a pair of shoes all his own.


Duke faced Florida State the week following Dr. King’s death, and Alex decided to take the field to play in memory of his father. With a heavy heart, Alex delivered the best performance of his career.

On five punts Alex averaged a massive 53.1 average, delivered a 60-yarder and knocked a punt inside the Florida State 20-yard line. It was a showing that Duke’s current punter, Will Monday, called “one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen at our position.”

The Blue Devils lost that day, but Alex was given the game ball in an emotional postgame scene.

In a fashion typical of Alex’s humble and quiet demeanor, he didn’t draw attention to himself during the game. He stepped onto the field and honored his dad the best way possible — with his leg and an unwavering eye toward the sky.

“Ever since it happened I’ve been playing in his memory, and I think about him all the time,” Alex King said. “I tell him I love him all the time.”

Alex’s entire family attended the game in Durham, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the section of the stands that housed the players’ families. But Katie said friends always paused in their shared moment of grief to commend Alex’s maturity.

“It might make some people sad and weep and think, ‘Why me?’” Katie said. “Not Alex. It just makes him stronger.”


Alex played in his father’s memory the rest of the season and was named a second-team All-ACC punter. Despite the success, King was hesitant to continue. But the more he thought about it, the less he wanted to walk away from the game. Alex loved football and longed to pay homage to his father’s memory.

“He taught me so much,” King said. “And I couldn’t think of a better way to honor him than to keep playing.”

But he’d have to find a new place to punt. He was welcome back at Duke, but there wasn’t a scholarship available for him. Duke head football coach David Cutcliffe decided to move forward with Monday at punter.

So Alex and Katie sat on Katie’s couch and made a list of every school in the country that had a need for a punter, with Texas at the top of the list.

Alex went out for the Longhorns’ spring game and once he saw Austin, that was it. Texas was where he wanted to be.

“It was the only school I visited, and the only coaches I talked to,” Alex King said.

Now Alex lines up in front of 100,000 fans at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium and punts each day in his dad’s honor. It’s quite a different atmosphere from Duke, but fitting considering his dad’s obsession with cowboys. Dr. King had cowboy paintings, sculptures and a huge cowboy belt buckle, and if he saw Alex punting in Texas he’d be thrilled. Actually, he’d probably be doing his patented laugh and clap — a move he reserved for his kids when they accomplished something he was especially proud of.

“We’ve talked often that if Dad could see Alex now, he’d be doing his laugh and clap,” Katie said. “He’d be so proud and so blown away to see how much he accomplished.”

Printed on Friday, November 16, 2012 as: Punter picks up pieces