Saturday’s Bulls game against Nevada will reunite former UB running back Steven King with his former players
There are three Nevada coaches that will make a return to UB this weekend, but none of them probably expect a grand welcome at UB Stadium.
Nevada head coach Brian Polian, assistant coach Jim Hofher and graduate assistant Steven King all either coached or played for the Buffalo football team during the early to mid-2000’s, but they’ve never coached this current group of Bulls players. Not even one coach or trainer from their UB tenure will be present.
But King isn’t going into Buffalo without knowing anyone. In fact, there are two regular UB students that King is ecstatic to see. After all, they helped King realize his potential for bigger and better opportunities when they were just 18 years old.
“It was a tremendous opportunity to be around those kids,” King said. “I just tried to pass on the knowledge that I was able to gather from the coaches that I played for. And they did a great job in practice, preparing and building great team camaraderie. They earned the success that they got.”
Saturday’s game will give King the chance to be reunited with Andrew Lynch, a senior exercise science major, and Evan Pantofel, a senior business major, both of whom played under King on the East Meadow High School football team.
After King tore up Mid-American Conference defenses as a UB running back from 2003-06, he accepted a job as East Meadow High School’s special teams coordinator and running backs coach. It was at that school, which is located on Long Island, where he first met the two future UB students.
And to say King had an effect on their lives would be an understatement.
When Lynch wanted extra practice in the summer heading into his senior season, he would call King with no hesitation. From Monday to Friday, King would work with Lynch separately from the rest of the team to get him ready for the season. King wasn’t paid for the extra service. He did it to make sure his players were ready.
In 2011, East Meadow was challenging for a Long Island Championship. The teams it played were poised with top-notch running backs that were nationally acclaimed at the time. Rather than do a run-through, King would revert back to his Buffalo days, throw on some pads and show the team what to expect rather than tell them.
“[King] would act as the best running back of the opposing team,” Pantofel said. “He was so fast, he would simply impersonate the other player and he would go full throttle. There was no other way to get us ready … He would run through holes and we’d have to catch him.”
East Meadow and King understood what it took to win. Everyone yearned for that next level. For the high school players, it was a Nassau County Championship. For King, it was a shot at professional football.
At the beginning of the 2011-12 season, Lynch, Pantofel and the rest of the team created a special contract for King: If East Meadow won the county title, King would be forced to try out for a professional team.
“They did their job, so I had to hold my bargain,” King said. “I then tried out for the arena football league.”
It was that team that helped King realize his true potential, not only as a player, but as a coach as well. The four years he coached at East Meadow High School will always be important to King. The lessons learned on Long Island helped catapult him to coaching jobs at Nassau Community College, Wagner College and now Nevada.
“If you can build a relationship where you’re fully invested in them, you’ll understand they’ll be fully invested in you,” King said. “It was always about having fun during the season.”
Lynch, Pantofel and King still keep up with each other via social media and phone calls, but this will be the first time they will see each other in Buffalo. It will be the first time King will see what his former players accomplished off the football field. It gives him “great joy and excitement” to see his former players do well. His excitement branches from their dedication to get him to the next level.
And he’s excited to see what his players accomplished at the next level: college.
Jordan Grossman is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.