What happened to NFL punter Marquette King?
Known as having the most impactful leg in pro football and a rare unicorn at his position just a season ago, King brought flavor and SWAG to a position few really care about
Punting was never more fun than when Marquette King was in the NFL.
Never deemed as important to the success of a football unit the way skill position players are, punters are in some way isolated from the rest of the team. In practice, offensive and defensive players work on one side of the field, while punters, alongside kickers and placement holders, hone their craft on the other side. During game action, one could argue that the punter was the player that fans cared the least about.
That is until King entered the fray. When King won the starting punter position for the Oakland Raiders ahead of the 2013 season (his second season), the entire NFL was put on notice. Not only did he look different (was the fifth black punter in NFL history) and did not look the part of a punter (his physique, size and athleticism fit more of a wide receiver or tight end), but it was the atypical power and strength in his leg that made him belong.
He constantly put in at least 15–20 punts a season inside the opposing team’s 20-yard line to pin them back and force the offense to drive long distance to score. Punters are customarily judged by their hangtime and distance, and no punter thrived in that department like King. In 2013, King led the league in gross yards per punt at 48.9. In 2014, he led the league in punting yards (4,930) and total punts (109), both setting Oakland Raiders single-season franchise records.
During his five-year run in Oakland as the starting punter (2013–2017), King was second in the NFL in total punts (426), eighth in net yards per punt (40.8), eighth in gross yards per punt (46.8), third in punts inside the 20-yard line (168) and first in punts inside the 10-yard line (65). In that time, King was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week twice and was a Second-Team All-Pro selection in 2016.
To think a punter could have a critical impact on a game seemed frivolous, yet King altered and changed the field positioning game for the Raiders in a way we haven’t seen from a punter in some time. His punting became appointment television just to see how far he could kick the football.
“It was like playing at a big ass club. A big day party or night party,” said King, on his time playing for the Raiders. “The fans were supercool and I was just doing my job to the best of my ability. I lived in the moment everytime I was out there.”
Soon, the effervescent King became a fan favorite and as famous for his festive post-punt celebrations as he was for the booming, skyrocketing punts he executed. Dancing on the football field was normally reserved for wide receivers after a splendid touchdown catch or for a defensive end after a timely sack, yet King bucked that trend immediately.
The league quickly recognized that there was nothing ordinary about this punter. Ideally enough, King was at a franchise that historically embraced players labeled as “outcasts,” “rebels,” and “free spirits” who didn’t fit the stereotypical mold of how a football player should conduct themselves on the field.
“I felt like I fit in perfectly because I wasn’t like anyone in the league,” described King. “The Raiders are known for embracing players that are different and have their own unique personality, which is something I admired about the organization.”
So, after seven successful seasons in pro football as arguably the best player at his position (is currently tied for fourth all-time in yards per punt at 46.9) and still in his prime, why is Marquette King not in the NFL?
It’s been a year since Marquette King last played in an NFL game (October 1, 2018) and the reason why is still pretty bemusing. If you’ve ever been around King, 31, then it’s crystal-clear to see that there’s an easy-going presence about him. Carefree. Silly. A total goofball that’s always got something to beam about. Playful to the max without a worry in the world.
These days, your spot him in Phoenix, Arizona. He gets up everyday around 5:30–6:00 a.m. to lift weights and kicks every other day for about 45 minutes to keep his leg lively and loose in preparation if a team comes calling. As unfazed as King usually appears, you get the inclination that there’s an inkling of him that feels a tiny bit irritated that he’s not on a roster.
He even vented on twitter during Week 1 of the 2019 season:
“It’s just weird that I’m kind of just chilling,” said King, pointing to the fact that he hasn’t been signed. “There’s always two sides to a story and if there is being anything said, then it’s not like I can get my side out.”
A native of Macon, Georgia, King’s unlikely journey from unknown commodity at Fort Valley State University to making waves and developing a reputation as having one of the most powerful legs pro scouts have ever seen at kicking camps to being signed as an undrafted free agent by the Oakland Raiders to establishing roots there as a fulcrum of the team to then being released out of the blue, feels like something of a yin-yang scenario. It even felt surreal for Greg Rhymes to see his younger cousin beat the odds and actually play in the NFL. “Marquette flew me and my wife out to a number of games in Oakland and we got to meet Derrick Carr, Marshawn Lynch, Khalil Mack and even Von Miller,” said Rhymes. “I got to meet the coaches as well and everybody was cool. All the players liked him too.”
Why a place he calls “like a second home” let him go after making a worthy impression there still is a question mark in his eyes? “I think what it comes down to is, certain people are gonna like you and certain people aren’t going to like you,” said King. “It was a very interesting situation because at the time they let Sebastian Janikowski go, the long snapper Jon Condo go and I was like, ‘This is real weird.’ And Condo calls me and says, ‘Your good. You’re not going anywhere.’ I basically told him, ‘I won’t be here either because I think there going to let me go.’”
The idea that King would be a Raider for the foreseeable future seemed assured given his high level performance and the commitment the organization made by signing him to a five-year, $16.5 million extension with $12.5 million guaranteed after the 2016 season. With three years left on his deal, King was released on March 30, 2018, two months after Jon Gruden took over as the new head coach.
King said former Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie broke the news to him and was taken aback. Did they give any particular reason why? “No, I didn’t get a reason why. It’s a real complicated situation because there was a lot of speculation from people around what happened,” said King. “People were creating different narratives and it sucks when you can’t get a legit answer of why.”
Much of the speculation spread around by the media was that Jon Gruden wasn’t too thrilled with the flamboyant celebrations that King was frequently known to display and had a “personality conflict” with the punter. Also, news of some disgruntled teammates could have played a factor. Though, the central reason remains unclear.
What rubs King the most is that he never actually spoke to the man face-to-face. “I never had a conversation with Gruden when he came to Oakland,” King laments. “One day I actually tried to show up at the facility and give him and the other special teams coach a gift. By the time I got there, I was being told I was being let go.”
What made King such an enticing draw to fans was his unique personality and ability to lighten the mood in an intense environment, and in some way that’s what got him cut.
And boy was King’s celebrations off the wall. He would have made the likes of Joe Horn and Deion Sanders proud.
The jaunty punter gave us the riding-the-bronco dance.
Mocked Cam Newton by dabbing…
and former linebacker great Ray Lewis with his famous pre-game hype dance.
Trolled the Chargers with former linebacker Shawne Merriman’s lights-out celebration, which King says was his “favorite” dance.
Then did something no one has ever seen on an NFL field: by picking up a flag thrown by the referee. Not only did he pick the flag up, he danced with it after celebrating a punt and received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
The next week, King got flagged for another penalty for taunting Chiefs Tyreek Hill after taking his punt back 78 yards for a touchdown.
“I honestly didn’t know you couldn’t throw the flag after the referee throws it,” remembers King.
“When he picked up the flag, I was like, ‘What is he doing?’ I died laughing,” said Rhymes, who feels the public took what his cousin did out of context. “He really didn’t know he couldn’t pick the flag up. In his mind, he was just having fun. He wasn’t trying to be disrespectful to the referee. They even made a funny commercial about it where he’s on the football field and a bunch of flags come flying out of the air.”
In King’s eyes, his celebrations were harmless fun. They became universally celebrated. Kids were drawn to it. Young adults were amused by them. His motive was never to be a hindrance to the team and collect any penalties but only follow his natural instinct and let his inner joy out.
“I’m just having fun,” said King simply. “I’ve been doing that since I was at Fort Valley State University, so it wasn’t something new I started. I guess once they saw me do one celebration they kept the camera running on me and it got to the point where it was catching everyone’s attention.”
Though, King’s celebrations seemed to be so detrimental to the team that the Raiders organization felt his game-changing punts wasn’t worth keeping around. “Obviously, I’m not a big football fan but I’m passionate about kicking the ball,” said King, who did say that coaches did approach him about the two penalties he received in back-to-back weeks during the 2016 season. “Those were only two penalties I got that hurt the team, in what four or five years. There was no possible way I was detrimental to the team with just two penalties.”
The way his cousin sees it, it was all genuine. “My thing is, if your the punter, the guy considered the least important position on the field is enthusiastic about his job, then the whole team should be enthusiastic about their job. When you look at it from his perspective and where he came from to get to this level when nobody had any idea who he was, it’s like why not celebrate,” said Rhymes.
King says his fondest memories of being a Raider is the three seasons (2015–2017) when Jack Del Rio was his head coach (was fired after the 2017 season) and Brad Seely was his special teams coach. Although Del Rio was a coach that let his players express themselves freely, he did take issue with King’s penalties in 2016. Still, to this day, King maintains that Del Rio was “one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around.” “I liked his style, his swag. He was like a Rockstar coach,” said King animatedly. “He was a good dude and cared about everybody on the team. I hate that he’s not there anymore. He let everybody be themselves and have fun because at the end of the day, we’ll playing a damn game.”
However, it was the infamous interview on NFL Network, two months after Gruden was hired that might have been the tipping point for the jolly, lighthearted King. When asked by a reporter to get King’s reaction to Gruden being his new head coach, the punter jokingly said that he didn’t know who he was, while wearing a King’s crown, cape and holding a scepter.
King saw it all as innocent fun. For Gruden, a new coach trying to revamp a struggling franchise, most likely not so much.
“People that know me, know I’m not a sports fan. The only time I paid attention to sports is when I was younger watching basketball or only a handful of Falcons games when they had Mike Vick. Even though I didn’t watch a bunch of football, I knew who Mike Vick was and how good he was,” said King. “The people during the interview asked me what I thought about Gruden coming to the Raiders and I honestly said in a jokingly matter that I didn’t know who he was. I don’t keep up with sports news. If it rubbed him the wrong way, then my bad. People always want to dive into the history. I mean, I’m not paying attention to the history of football. I just want to play ball, kick and be real good at kicking the ball.”
After being released, King was picked up by the Denver Broncos on April 5, 2018. King admits that his reasoning for making the move to the Mile High City stemmed from seeking revenge against his former team and new division rival.
During his short stint in Denver, he never found the comfort he had in Oakland. “I was in Oakland for so long, that it became my second home, no matter what. One minute your living life and the next moment your being let go by a place you fell in love with, the fans and the ins and outs of the Bay area,” said King. “I was angry about the whole situation but I was more angry that they didn’t get a chance to know who I am. I feel like at the end of the day coaches get players that can do the job. You don’t have to like the person in order to execute a job. That anger carried over to Denver and I chose to go there, when I had other offers on the table, because my mind was set on revenge. That was the very opposite thing I should have been doing.”
Unhappiness crept in because King was no longer able to do what was working for him in Oakland. He was being asked by Broncos special teams coach Tom McMahon to tinker with his kicking technique to the point where King said players who took punts in practice noticed that something was off.
“Punting is a skill. The more you do things the wrong way, you get yourself out of alignment that would throw the timing off. In punting, you want everything to go in a straight line. Whatever direction you want to punt, you walk that direction,” King explained. “If I wanna kick the ball right, I’m going to offset to my left and I’m going to face the direction I want to kick the ball and I kick it that way. But what he was trying to do was when I kicked right and offset to the direction of my left, when I kicked left he would make me still face like I’m kicking right and kick the ball on the outside of my body and I would swing my leg across my body. The more I kept swinging my leg across my body, it kept tearing up my abductor muscle. The more he kept asking me to do it that way, the more my leg hurt. I would say, ‘Hey coach, this is really hurting my leg’ and he would say, ‘Just trust me. I know what I’m talking about.’”
The different method of kicking King was being asked to execute in OTAs, practices and games led to an injury in his abductor muscle. “It started bothering me because I couldn’t even reach my full potential because I’m being locked up in this cage. It felt like he was asking Batman or Spiderman to fly. If there’s a big ass spaceship in downtown New York, and someone tries to get Spiderman and Batman to fly and blow it up, when it’s really Superman’s job. It’s like, you don’t tell Batman to do Superman’s job. That’s what was happening with me.”
After only four games he was placed on injury reserve, then later released. Asked why it didn’t work in Denver, King said, “I did have a conversation with [General Manager] John Elway but it didn’t workout. It just didn’t workout and it wasn’t going to. It was just real bad communication and coach wanted me to do it his way, which was difficult for me. It was a humbling experience.”
Talk to King now and you will notice that he doesn’t seem to be the least bit worried he’s not in the NFL at this moment. “My mindset now is I’m not anxiously waiting. I’m just working. I’m not pressing myself, ‘I gotta be picked up by this team.’ I’m just living life and doing the things that make me happy,” said King.
Living life indeed. Not only is King making a swift transition away from football but he’s setting out to conquer the entertainment business with full force. In all reality, King was made to be an entertainer. He’s built for it. He mastered the art of drawing eyeballs his way on the gridiron. Now he’s dipped his feet into the music industry and acting world.
King’s insertion into music began when he played in Oakland and it became more legit during his time in Denver, where he met a young, aspiring singer-songwriter in Annabelle Osborn, who was in the early stages of building her career. The two connected on Instagram and they met one day after a Broncos practice. “I met him when he played for the Broncos. He was producing for a friend of mine, Nate Palmer, who was in the league at the time (King and Palmer were Raiders teammates in 2016),” said Osborn. “I saw a video of Nate in the studio producing a beat with Marquette and at that time I was looking for more producers. I just hit him up about his music, not knowing he was a football player. We ended up FaceTiming each other and he came through into the studio that night and we created a record. The energy was immaculate. Both of us are weird and silly. It was all on alignment.”
“She has a cool vibe about herself, a beautiful personality and I was like I want to hang around more good people like her,” said King.
In the two years they’ve known each other, they have made headwaves with their music — collectively and individually. While Osborn has her own independent career working in Los Angeles, King and her collaborate often. King has had his music played on the radio in 14 different states and you can find many of his tracks on Spotify and Apple music. When the two come together, King plays the role of producer, writing his lines and raps/sings frequently, while Osborn writes her own lyrics and shows off her vocals. When it comes to what genres each are more drawn to, King’s into making dance, EDM music with a “hip-hop feel.” Osborn leans more towards hip-hop and the vocalization aspect.
“We don’t really classify it but we kind of bring our collective brains together. It’s just like this radiation of energy,” said Osborn, describing the musical dynamic between the two. “He normally starts with an idea and I’ll throw in a baseline or synth but it also depends where were at. Sometimes he’ll send me a beat and sometimes we’ll create a beat from scratch together. It’s spontaneous and in the moment.”
The pair have put out music videos on YouTube for songs like “Hard,” “October 5th,” and “This Side.” Osborn labels “Hard” as a house track and says it’s been “getting really great feedback in the dance world.” She added that “This Side” is “dancy but it’s got a hip-hop vibe.”
For King, music is not only an outlet away from football but a career he sees long-term for himself. Analyze his free and easy nature in his music videos and listen closely to the sounds he produces, and one can easily notice the level of exuberance and execution he puts into it. The passion is certainly there.
“Man, it’s just superfun. It’s gotten pretty serious to the point where I had to hire a music manager because it’s really taking off,” said King. “I met this international DJ named DJ Trainz and he’s doing an international tour and he chose five artists that he wants to tour and perform with, and he chose me. We’ll be touring next summer for three weeks in Asia and South Korea. I even created an independent record label for right now called B U Universe.”
If music wasn’t enough, then King aimed to take on the film business, which many athletes explore sooner than later. Take a visit to his Instagram and Twitter pages, and your see that the dude is a social media magnet, posting any and everything that fits his mood on that particular day. Yet, what’s distinctive is the Killmonger look he’s been sporting from the huge blockbuster film The Black Panther in recent months for a short superhero film he participated in that involved him fighting Flashpoint Batman produced by Bat in the Sun Productions.
Bat in the Sun is an independent film production company based in Los Angeles co-founded by Sean Schoenke and his son Aaron Schoenke. They create content for comic books, sci-fi and video game culture, and has worked with major entertainment brands like Lionsgate, Saban and Crypt TV. Bat in the Sun has quite the following with over 2.2 million subscribers on their YouTube channel and are most popular for their SuperPower Beat Down films. The four-to-five minute films have had over 380 million YouTube views where they pit two different superheroes against each other and they battle in a live action setting that’s fully produced and created by professionals.
King, a fan of the Green Power Ranger, had an idea. “One of my homies who was the Green Ranger back in the day, Jason David Frank. I got connected with him during the time I was hurt and while I was in L.A.. We talked and I told him I wanted to beat up the Green Power Ranger in a video. We started looking into some characters that could fight the Green Ranger. Jason got me in contact with Aaron and we met.”
Frank introduced the two, where King hung out on set and expressed his interest in playing Killmonger in a Beat Down film. Schoenke thought it would be a great idea and started making the necessary steps to make it come into fruition. “Marquette, if you’ve met him, just has a real cool vibe about him and he’s got the swag. So, he has a kind of Killmonger vibe about him,” said Aaron Schoenke. “The great thing is Marquette already had a real physical presence, cause obviously he’s a football player and a lot of times when someone wants to be in a video they have to have the physical ability, talent and fit the character. So much of being an actor, you draw from different places and I think how physically gifted he is carried over into his acting. We originally had him audition for Black Panther but he fit Killmonger more and I could see that he wanted to play that more. Plus, I think Killmonger looks better than the Black Panther anyway.”
Schoenke noticed early in the process that King was new to acting, so he had Kevin Porter, the actor who played Flashpoint Batman (a more aggressive, vicious form of Batman) work closely with him. The video was shot in April 2019 and launched online in October.
Schoenke was impressed by King’s willingness to try something that would “take him out of his comfort zone” and the video has received tons of positive responses from fans. “It’s been great to read all the reviews from fans online saying he nailed the character and how Michael B. Jordan would be proud,” said Aaron Schoenke. “I think that’s really saying something because Michael B. Jordan obviously did such a fantastic job. He was being compared to something that was the best, not average. To see that is very rewarding on our side and hopefully for Marquette as well.”
King said the biggest challenge for him was trying to hold a fake Nigerian ascent and wants to do more roles like that in the future. “I’m looking at a different character next time and I gotta take more acting classes too,” said King with a chuckle.
In some ways — in his eyes — King wants to be more defined for his music and his superhero roles more than the guy who was bombing 50-yard punts every Sunday.
As far as his NFL future goes, King’s agent Sean Howard said that he 100 percent believes his client should be in the league right now and has spoken with decision-makers at organizations that have acknowledged that he has “leg talent” and is a “hell of a punter.” “We have been contacted by teams and I have independently contacted teams that have expressed an interest at various levels,” said Howard. However, Howard said that there are no teams actively interested and noted “an injury at the position can dictate a lot.”
Still, King isn’t worried the least. He’s gonna keep making music, acting and enjoying whatever thrilling, offbeat, out of-the-box activity he can get himself into. Asked if he sees himself playing in the NFL this season or down the line, King responded, “It’s possible. I never put boundaries on anything. When it’s my time to have my number called again, then I’ll be ready.”
Note: King will be making his return to football in February 2020 as a member of the XFL’s St. Louis BattleHawks in the inaugural season of the league. King was selected in the supplemental round of the XFL Draft in November.