When Rhett Lashlee saw D'Eriq King's name creep across the bottom of his television screen on Jan. 13, he knew there was a chance.
Lashlee had just become Miami's offensive coordinator. The news scrolling explained that King had decided to transfer from Houston as one of the most talented, ready-made, quarterback talents on the open market in years.
"That was on a Monday night during the national championship when he announced it," Lashlee said. "I think that game probably let him know, 'Man, I want to play on this kind of stage.'"
That was the night LSU QB Joe Burrow capped what was arguably the greatest single season by a player in history. This is time to consider King -- if not the next Burrow – maybe entering the 2020 season as the next version of Burrow.
The stories are slightly different. The expectations are the same. LSU and Miami are/were desperate for a championship quarterback. We know how it worked out for Burrow.
To put it bluntly, Miami has been gosh-awful on offense. Like, so awful that Miami's time in the ACC these last 16 years has been marked mostly by not having a quarterback who could lead it to a championship.mWho knew Brock Berlin (2003 Big East champion!) could be missed so much?
Enter King, who not only saw a chance to start but to thrive. Lashlee is a veteran offensive mind at only 36. Already the Gus Malzahn protégé has won a national championship at Auburn as a graduate assistant in 2010 and played for one in 2013 as the Tigers' offensive coordinator.
"Seven years I was in the SEC," Lashlee reminded. "There's something about being on those stages. Places like Miami with the history they have here. It's 'The U.' I was not numb to what has been here, to what can be done."
Lashlee completed a successful two-year run at SMU by becoming a 2019 semifinalist for the Broyles Award (best assistant coach). Here's a hint of what Miami can become: The Mustangs finishing second nationally in plays per game (79.8) while running a play every 21.7 seconds.
King came to Miami three days after his transfer announcement and never left -- at least for another school.
"After he'd been here 36 hours, he pretty much shut it all down," Lashlee said. "He would have fit at a lot of places, and fortunately, he came here first. I just showed him offensively what we can do. That's what really made him feel good about there being some good players here. All they need is a quarterback."
Lashlee may have done his best work in his lone season at UConn in 2017. The Huskies went from 122nd to 50th in total offense despite not having a receiver or running back who could run faster than a 4.7.
Maybe a comparison to Burrow isn't fair. King is arguably better than Burrow was at this point in his career.
In his last full season, King threw for almost 3,000 yards and accounted for 50 touchdowns (36 passing) leading the Cougars in 2018. Whenever the 2020 season gets started, King will lead college football with an ongoing streak of 15 consecutive games running and passing for at least one touchdown.
Given one final full season, King -- who has accounted for 78 career touchdowns accounted -- is a good bet to surpass Burrow's 91 career touchdowns in that category.
It's a different package, a different skill set. King is 5-foot-11, 194 pounds. That's five inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than Burrow. But as a run-pass threat, King is a more complete … run-pass threat. King has rushed for 1,500 yards and 28 touchdowns in his career.
Burrow is a better thrower. Actually, he's one of the best single-season throwers of all time. But we're getting away from the point.
The damn shame of it would be that King never gets his shot. It's already been a strange enough migration from Houston to Miami.
You remember, King was the firestarter Cougars quarterback who, supposedly at the behest of Houston coach Dana Holgorsen, shut down his senior season after four games in 2019. The rule had been changed to preserve eligibility for part-time players and freshmen who appeared in less than five games. It was hijacked by Holgorsen as a way to preserve his best player for 2020 after a 1-3 start.
King didn't play after Game 4, nor did he play along. In January, he transferred from his native Houston to Miami.
"When it happened, I was the one taking all the blame," King said. "Me and Coach Holgorsen have a good relationship to this day, but it didn't go the way I thought it was going to go."
"Naturally you want to play," he added. "I'm a competitor. I've been a three-year starter for the team. At the end of the day, you sometimes have to do what's best for you."
That's the message King's father had left him before passing away in February: Sometimes, you have to take care of yourself.
Eric King had been his son's youth coach and best friend before congestive heart failure took him unexpectedly.
"When he called me, I don't know if I've ever heard a young man that torn up," Lashlee said. "He had just found out 15 minutes earlier. Kid's a stud. Him and his family, his mom, what she's going through. They've handled that situation better than anyone I've ever seen."
Last week, Cassandra King received her last chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.
"Really, the only reason I was going to stay here was because of her," King said. "She probably won't be able to come to any games this year. … She actually thought it was best for me [to go to Miami], her and my dad."
With a difference-making quarterback, there is now hope at Miami. Lashlee reminded the world on Monday when he tweeted out a video proclaiming Miami "Quarterback U."
The defense is seemingly set with the return of ACC sack leader Gregory Rousseau and Temple transfer Quincy Roche, the AAC Defensive Player of the Year. That's two of the top eight sack leaders in the country.
All of them are trapped at home like the rest of us. King can't wait to get going by throwing to whoever he can find.
"A lot of guys are home from college right now," King said Monday from his home in Houston. "There's a lot of pro guys."
Sometimes, when boredom creeps in, he contemplates the unthinkable: His college career indeed may be over.
It's been seven months since he took a snap. Such is one of the unseen impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the college athlete. Too much time to ponder.
"Of course you think about it," King said. "What I've been hearing is there will be a season … whether it's fall, winter, spring, whatever, that they're going to make it happen."
Let's hope. It truly would be a damn shame if the next version of Joe Burrow never got his shot.