By Perry Lefko
Ryan King is living the ultimate dream as a professional football player born and raised in Edmonton, playing for the Eskimos and fortunate enough to have won a Grey Cup with the team. Yet, he is also aware of how much the community and his family helped him accomplish all of this.
The seven-year long snapper, who won a Cup with the team in 2015, has played in 100 career games and successfully overcame a devastating knee injury last season that required major reconstructive knee surgery.
“There’s no question it’s gone well above and beyond what I ever would have imagined it to be,” he said of his life and his career in football. “I’ve enjoyed every moment of the ride.”
The only thing missing is winning a Cup with his younger brother Neil, a safety who joined the Eskimos in 2016 after beginning his Canadian Football League career with Hamilton in 2015.
Off the field, Ryan is giving back to Edmonton’s youth in a big way – helping many who have not been as fortunate as he has to realize his dream. This year he started a not-for-profit called King’s Kids and has partnered with KidSport Edmonton, which provides sport funding such as fees for underprivileged kids in vulnerable situations. Through KidSport, four youths from the program who have never been to an Eskimos’ game are treated to an incredible experience. The kids are given seats behind the Eskimos’ bench, free food, a media booth tour, a stadium tour, the opportunity to run with the Eskimos from the tunnel to the field before the start of the game, in addition to a meet-and-greet with the players after the game to get some autographs.
“It’s just cool for me to be able to use my playing platform and be able to put something together that will live on past me playing football,” Ryan said, crediting sponsors who are helping him to make this happen.
“It’s an experience that these kids might never be able to go through because of the situations they’ve been in,” Ryan said. “I’m a big believer that the least we can do for kids out there is give them the ability to play sports.
And what a game to watch last night!! Edmonton vs Calgary with a 48-42 win for the @EdmontonEsks Congrats on the win, guys!!
A BIG thank you to @ryanking46 #53 for making the night possible for these special KidSport Kids #KingsKids ???? pic.twitter.com/cv1xXe0HwR
— KidSport Edmonton (@KSEdmonton) September 9, 2018
“I grew up in a pretty good situation with a good family. I had a very supportive mom and dad that would drop me off at every practice and paid for all the gear and all the fees. Those are things that growing up, for the most of us, that we are provided with. As kids you don’t realize how fortunate you are because you are just a kid. There are too many kids [and families] out there that can’t pay for their own sports.
— Ryan King (@ryanking46) May 13, 2018
“KidSport Edmonton paid 3,000 fees itself last year and there’s many more that they couldn’t help. It’s just about creating awareness that there’s a lot of problems people have in life and at least there’s an ability for a kid to have a release in the sense of sports… a way to socialize with other people, be around a team and part of a team that could be pulling them away from a very vulnerable situation they have at home or whatever the case is.”
He said sports helped him through tough times (and still continues to this day) in relieving him of some of life’s problems.
“Whether it’s emotionally, physically, whatever it is, it’s being able to go into the locker room every day,” he said. “At this point in my career I’m still super grateful and happy to be able to play a sport for a living. The more I play the more I realize I have to use this platform I have built to try and make an impact, and the way I wanted to do it was for kids to at least have the ability to have their fees paid for.
“I’m a big supporter of giving back to the community and to kids – when they are most vulnerable.”
There are no restrictions on gender or ethnicity for the kids to have the chance to experience an Eskimos’ outing. The youths simply put together an application with information about themselves and a KidSport co-ordinator, who partners with King and selects the four youth. The program also brought four kids to a game that recently emigrated to Canada from other countries.
“All kids are welcome to King’s Kids,” he said. “Whatever vulnerable situation there is, wherever they are from, there is no turning kids down. That was part of our plan. KidSport Edmonton and I believe you should have the ability to play whatever sport you want – to be involved in team activity.”
— KingMcCartyCamp (@KingMcCartyCamp) December 29, 2015
For five years now, King and teammate Calvin McCarty have also collaborated on King McCarty Camps, in partnership with SportBall Edmonton, which provides non-competitive sports programs for kids at every stage. King McCarty Camps, which run flag football tournaments, will be the main sponsor for the 2018 Annual CFLPA Kid’s Camp which runs during Grey Cup week.
“A lot of this just goes to show how much the community in Edmonton is supportive of not only the Eskimos but also all the stuff that we do as players,” King said.
What’s interesting is that King plays a position in which the only time he (the long snapper) is noticed is because of an errant snap, either for punts or field goals. Being the Eskimos’ long snapper is not a position that receives a lot of attention from fans and the media, but for many youths in Edmonton, King is a role model and hero.
“If they can take something I said to them and use it in any way – if they need me as a sports idol or whatever it is – I’m a big kids’ guy,” he said. “I feel like I am a big kid still. I’m still living out my childhood dream. In a way I still feel like a big kid out there on game day. There’s no question… if I entered a restaurant here – is there going to be big recognition? Probably not. But if it’s a high school football team, I’ve probably coached half the kids there and at the very least – spoken to the other half.
“I believe in starting from the grass roots and trying to influence those kids. They are the ones that are most vulnerable.”