This coach lost 1 conference football game in 8 years. Hiring him was a ‘no brainer.’

A few days before the start of fall camp, first-year N.C. Central coach Trei Oliver was scrambling to find a running backs coach.

Brian Jenkins, the coach who held that title since the winter and who coached spring practice with the Eagles, was “no longer an employee with the university” after being arrested in Florida in late July.

So 48 hours before his first camp as a head coach, Oliver had to find a Jenkins’ replacement. Oliver reached out to former Hillside head coach Antonio King, and hours later King was on campus, in the film room studying the NCCU offense.

King wasn’t that far away. He spent the 2018 season at Cedar Ridge High School in Hillsborough, even though the Red Wolves didn’t field a varsity football team last year. King coached a powerhouse Hillside program in Durham for eight years, compiling an overall record of 73-19, highlighted by a 4A state title in 2010. During King’s time coaching the Hornets, Hillside only lost one conference game.

King left Hillside after the 2015 season to become the running backs coach at East Carolina. He returned to the high school ranks in 2017, coaching at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia before returning to North Carolina. Since he left ECU, however, King wanted to get back to coaching college football and always had his eye on N.C. Central, a place that was familiar to him.

NC Central football ‘has always been a dream’

King, a Durham native, finished his college career at NCCU after starting at Howard. Even when he was leading a dominant Hillside program, he was always aware of what was going on at N.C. Central.

“It’s always been a dream for me to come to North Carolina Central,” King told The News & Observer before practice on Tuesday. “I’m born and raised here, grew up right here in McDougald Terrace, so I know a lot about North Carolina Central. Always a place I wanted to be.”

Since getting to camp, King said he hasn’t had a moment to take it all in because his hiring happened so fast.

When Oliver offered him the job, King didn’t waste any time accepting it. He then had to go through a crash course with Oliver and offensive coordinator Moses Ware to get up to speed on what they do offensively. It didn’t take long for King to catch up. He had coached the position before on the college level, and he had years of high school coaching experience. While the terminology N.C. Central uses is different than what he is used to, King is taking bits and pieces from various offenses he’s worked with to adjust.

“I just have to learn all the verbiage,” King said, “but I can teach the basic concepts of pass blocking, inside zone, outside zone, power. So that was easy, so it’s coming.”

Hiring King was a ‘no brainer’

When Oliver suddenly found himself in the market for a running backs coach, King’s name was the first one to pop up. Oliver, who had previously played and coached at NCCU, had always admired King from afar. He followed the success he had as a coach at Hillside and knew about the experience he gained at ECU under former Duke player and assistant Scottie Montgomery. Oliver called the decision a “no brainer.”

“You can tell by the success he had at Hillside that he knows what he’s doing,” Oliver said about King. “It was an easy transition.”

Knowing a few players on N.C. Central’s team also helped King with the transition. While at Hillside, King coached current NCCU receiver Daeshawn Stephens all four years of his high school career. He also coached junior quarterback Chauncey Caldwell and redshirt freshman running back Jamal Currie-Elliott for two years.

“We always talked and I always made sure they were good,” King said. “Even when Daeshawn was at N.C. State and Jamal went to Oregon. I’ve known those kids since before they were born.”

The running back group King takes over not only features Currie-Elliott, but is led by All-MEAC junior Isaiah Totten, who’s rushed for 1,486 yards and 12 scores in two years.

“It’s a very good room,” King said. “I have a great leader in Mr. Totten himself, but it’s a lot of people who can get stuff done. I’m happy, we’re still learning and we want to be the best, that’s what we are striving for.”

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Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV covers college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central and the ACC for the Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.