A return to the playoffs aside, New Albany High School football coach Pat Samanich has one goal for this season: Making Will King laugh.
The Eagles' 6-foot-6, 220-pound junior defensive end is all business and a man of few words both on and off the field, quickly becoming a leader not only on defense but of the entire team.
"I'll say something off the wall and he'll just look at me and smile," Samanich said. "He'll just give me a grin. My goal by the end of the year is to make him laugh.
"He's always been one of those quiet guys who just goes hard. He could have a broken arm and I'd ask him how he was doing and he'd say 'OK, coach.' That's all he ever says. It's fun to coach a kid like that. The only thing is I would like to see him be more vocal."
Short of that, Samanich is pleased with King's performance on the field for New Albany, which is 2-3 entering its OCC-Capital Division opener Friday, Sept. 29, at Canal Winchester.
King comes from solid football stock. His father, Chris, was a defensive end at Westerville South who played for Miami University from 1986-89.
Will King was a defensive end and wide receiver as a freshman and then played strictly on defense last year before adding tight end duties this year. Used primarily as a blocker in goal-line situations, King has yet to make a catch, but that is fine with him as he prefers defense.
He still plays basketball but gave up baseball a few years ago.
"(I like defense more because) it's about hitting the person with the ball. I always liked that, but since I've been playing defense I've liked it that much more," King said, adding that he is trying to improve at staying low and quickly getting his hands on opposing offensive linemen. "I guess I would say there is always room for improvement. I've been giving my full effort but I always think there is room to do better. I'd put myself at a 'B' right now. I just have relentless effort every play and go all out in practice. I do whatever I can to make the play in games and in practices, and I know I can get better."
New Albany is taking the same approach as it begins defense of its OCC-Capital championship.
The Eagles broke a three-game losing streak Sept. 22, defeating Westerville North 27-26 in overtime. In his second consecutive start at quarterback, Jalin Jackson completed five of 11 passes for 101 yards and the game-winning 16-yard touchdown to Luke Muter in overtime.
Jackson also ran for 23 yards and a touchdown on six carries, and Zach Paragas made field goals of 31 and 37 yards.
According to Samanich, a handful of Big Ten and Mid-American Conference programs as well as Cincinnati have expressed interest in King.
"He's always been tall but he's getting better with technique," Samanich said, crediting defensive line coach James Yarbrough. "He's getting better with his hands and understanding as a defensive lineman, that's how you can really help yourself a bunch. He has a good eye for when the quarterback takes his hand off the ball so he can get his own hand up there and redirect the ball, get a piece of it. He knows he has to use angles and hands and effort as a plus. He'll always have his motor going."