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The Daily Tar Heel

McKinney, King overcome injuries

Both players in lineup as UNC heads to college cup

Nearly eight years have passed, but Drew McKinney remembers.

As a 13-year-old, McKinney played on the best club soccer team in North Carolina: Capital Area Soccer League. He was one of the team’s star players.

Yet when CASL matched up against a club team from Wilmington, the Breakers, McKinney couldn’t help but notice Wilmington’s forward. Quite simply, McKinney’s opponent possessed all the tools.

After the game ended, McKinney talked with his teammates about Wilmington’s striker.

“If we get him… then we’ll definitely win a club national championship,” he said.

Little did McKinney know then, but his wish soon came true.

For back in Wilmington, that forward, Brett King, wanted nothing other than to play college soccer. Sure, he might earn a scholarship while playing with the Breakers, but he desired to play at North Carolina. With pre-college soccer, recruits grab attention at big club tournaments. King knew he’d never get the necessary exposure with Wilmington. So he left for CASL.

The following year, King got all the attention he desired. CASL won the national club championship in 2003. And along the way, he met a good friend in McKinney.

But when they first met during CASL’s initial practice in the fall, things were a bit different.

“At the time I was a forward, and he was a defender,” King said of McKinney. “We had a 1 vs. 1 drill dribbling to a cone. It was very tentative to say the least. We were just both not trying to get beat. We were just standing around. It was the worst 1 vs. 1 ever.”

Their coach, Bruce Talbot, always matched the pair together after that. McKinney was perhaps the team’s best defender, and King was a stud forward.

As such, both King and McKinney enjoyed immense success during their time with CASL. But when each enrolled at UNC – yes, they made it – their careers took downward spirals.

The cause? Injuries.

McKinney graduated from his high school, Athens Drive, a semester early to partake in spring practice with the Tar Heels. He played a little but hurt his hip. Before most freshmen even made it to campus, McKinney underwent surgery.

King arrived at UNC in the fall of 2007 and began preseason practice. But on only the second day of scrimmaging – the fourth practice more specifically –  King, now a defender like McKinney, broke his foot during a 1 vs. 1 drill. King wasn’t prepared for the injury either. He'd never been seriously hurt in his career.

“But I come here and break my foot,” he said. “School started on a Tuesday, and I had surgery Monday. I missed the entire first week of school. It was quite the way to start my college career, both in soccer and school.” 

Luckily, they had each other to turn to. The pair roomed together freshman year.

“Both of us were pretty much hurt that whole year,” McKinney said. “Misery loves company. It was kind of nice having someone to sympathize with.”

King couldn’t agree more, though in a more joking manner.

“Misery loves company, and we were really able to cry for each other,” he said.

After his initial hip surgery, McKinney tried rehabbing quickly enough to play his freshman year. But instead, he redshirted.

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King, meanwhile, needed another surgery to fix his foot. So over Thanksgiving he headed home and got the operation. Problem was, during the break, he broke his other foot while hopping in the bathroom. With two broken feet, King withdrew from his first semester of school in 2007 because he was essentially in a wheelchair.

But no, their bad luck didn’t stop there.

McKinney endured ankle surgery the following spring and another hip surgery in the fall of 2008.

“At that point, I was debating (whether to quit),” McKinney said. “I tried to never think that, but there were a few instances where I was close to quitting.”

King tried avoiding such thoughts. His foot finally recovered – though granted, he did break it again during the summer of 2008 playing club soccer – and he returned to the field in September, where he saw action in four games.

Again, though, his health didn’t last. Last spring season, King fractured his foot for the fourth time.

“Once you break that, you have a 50 percent of refracturing it,” King said. “Each time it happens, the number gets greater. I have a 55 mm screw in my foot. It’s about the size of my index finger — I’ll keep it in.”

Still, King kept coming back. Rehab sucked his energy, but his passion for soccer outweighed any hardships. The same with McKinney.

So by the time preseason practice kicked off this past August, it should come as no surprise that both McKinney and King were finally manning the field together.

“For them being able to come back after those injuries, it shows a big commitment to the team,” senior captain Zach Loyd said. “I’m glad to be a part of them overcoming their injuries. It’s something special, and I’m thankful to be a part of it.”

North Carolina’s coach, Elmar Bolowich, is likely pretty thankful, too.

Bolowich started McKinney as a center back in every game this season, and McKinney has come through. He’s helped the Tar Heels post 11 shutouts – including exhibitions.

And King?

After senior defender Eddie Ababio went down with his own injury, King stepped in flawlessly, making 16 starts.

“Brett was an interesting prospect for us on the onset of the season because he has fifth metatarsal breaks,” Bolowich said. “He was out for basically a year and a half. Outlook was 50-50 chance that he would play without any further setbacks.

“But obviously, his talent is unquestionable. He is calm; he is a talented player and is very athletic.”

Thanks in part to those two, UNC finds itself in the College Cup for the second straight year. And with two more wins, the former club teammates will become national champions again – though this time, on the college level.

“They’re just as important as any attacking player scoring goals,” Loyd said. “They keep our defense in line. We wouldn’t be back in the College Cup if it wasn’t for them.”