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Tech’s Jaylon King: ‘I just always like to be the best’

What Jaylon King can bring to Georgia Tech as a cornerback might be best understood through what he brought to the school orchestra at Thurman Francis Arts Academy as a middle schooler.

It was there, at the Smyrna, Tenn., magnet school to the southeast of Nashville, that King took up the cello.

“He came home with the (registration) paper and asked if he could do it, and we said, ‘Of course,’” said Scheniquah King, Jaylon’s mother. “That was it.”

King’s parents weren’t sure how he would take to it, having to lug the hefty instrument to school every day and practice every night. But not only did King meet the practice requirements, but, as he recalled, he exceeded them in order to receive extra credit.

As he learned to play, King set a goal for himself – to earn the first chair among the cellists. As the Kings tell it, there was a girl who had played a number of years who was ahead of him, but that didn’t deter Jaylon.

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“That competitive side came out,” Scheniquah said. “He was determined. He was going to do what it took for him to get that first seat, and he did.”

Jaylon recalled the sense of accomplishment of earning the first chair. He also remembered that the first chairs in the orchestra got to place their music on a gold stand.

“I just always like to be the best,” Jaylon said.

On Tuesday, King arrived at Tech with most of the rest of the incoming freshman class. For what it’s worth, he was the highest-rated prospect (247 Sports Composite) in the Yellow Jackets’ class, a four-star player ranked the No. 318 player in the country. The combination of his determination to excel and his physical gifts would help explain it.

“In coaching, you talk about that ‘it’ factor,” said Tech inside linebackers coach Andy McCollum, who recruited King out of the Ensworth School, in a Tech-produced video. “He’s got it.”

At Ensworth, a private school in Nashville that King lobbied his parents to send him to in part because of its academic rigor, King was talented enough to attract scholarship offers from Tennessee, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and Louisville, and also had the grades to also draw an offer from Princeton.

He was athletic, versatile and team-oriented such that he played quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback and punt returner for the Tigers and demonstrated the sort of leadership that earned him the captaincy as a junior and a senior.

He did it with steadfast dedication to his craft.

“There might be some people that might beat me out, but I’m always the hardest worker out of our group,” King said. “I always want to put myself in a leadership position where, if I start pushing hard, other people will follow.”

King’s father, Jeff, saw it in the way that Jaylon wanted to work with him on Saturdays after games on Friday nights. When he was playing quarterback as a junior, Jaylon did defensive back drills with his father to stay sharp.

“If he does something wrong in the game that he feels like he could have done better, he’ll come home and say, ‘Dad, can we work on correcting this?’” said Jeff King, an IT professional. “And we’ll go work on it.”

Georgia Tech incoming freshman Jaylon King with his mother Scheniquah and his father Jeff at his signing day at Ensworth. King's father Jeff ran track and studied engineering at Tennessee State. (Courtesy Scheniquah King)

King tended to his schoolwork with similar conscientiousness. When he went with his parents to watch his younger sisters Sheridan and Saniyah perform in dance competitions (he also has an older stepsister Aviana), he often passed the time by pulling out his homework to knock out assignments. It presumably takes superior study skills to impress a woman who is an assistant high-school principal and who earned her doctorate while raising two children and pregnant with a third, but Jaylon managed.

“I can get up on Sunday morning, and he’s just up doing homework,” said Scheniquah, a graduate of Douglass High in Atlanta. “Never would I have gotten up on a Sunday morning without a nudge or something to get up and do some work. He just had that intrinsic drive just to move forward and do. It’s like he has the desire, the motivation. You don’t really have to push him.”

Crystal Miller taught King in his junior and senior years, first pre-med chemistry and then advanced-placement chemistry.

“When he first started the (AP) class, I think it was more than he anticipated it would be, and he looked at me, like, Why are you doing this to me?” Miller said. “And I’m, like, ‘Because you can.’ But once he realized that it was a challenge, then he tackled it. Then he wrapped his head around it and was, like, OK, we’re going to do this. That’s his attitude: If you’re presenting me with a challenge, I guess I’m going to have to win.”

Ceramic ware that Georgia Tech freshman Jaylon King made in an arts class at his high school. (Ken Sugiura/AJC)

Undoubtedly, McCollum saw the same traits. McCollum said he was drawn to his athletic ability, his long reach and his physicality, and added that “I love his character.” King will join a secondary where there’s a chance for him to earn playing time immediately. Cornerbacks Lance Austin and Step Durham and nickel back Lawrence Austin have graduated. Lamont Simmons and Ajani Kerr figure to be the starting corners, but there’s slots on the depth chart for which King could post a challenge.

“Since we lost both our corners and our safeties, (coaches) say I have a chance to come in and compete early,” King said. “The spot’s not guaranteed, but if I come in and do what I’m supposed to do – learn the defense and just give it my all – then I have a chance to play early as a freshman.”

Those who know him, possibly including members of the cello section from a certain era of the Francis Thurman Arts Academy orchestra, would not bet against this happening.

The second in a series of profiles of members of Georgia Tech’s incoming freshman class.

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