In recent years, the NFL’s competition committee has made great strides to enhance the economic life of their product by implementing rules changes commensurate with improving player safety. Upon entering the NFL, Cedric Killings had no idea his chance influence on football would change the landscape of the NFL game as we once knew it.
Cedric Killings is a former NFL defensive tackle from Miami, Florida who starred at Miami Central high school. Killings earned All-Dade and All-State honors as a senior and was recruited by a host of Division l-A schools such as the University of Michigan, University of Miami, South Carolina and West Virginia.
Unfortunately Killings did not achieve the test scores the aforementioned schools desired. With his list of suitors slightly abridged following his test results, Killings chose Division I-AA Carson-Newman University over Albany State, Florida A&M and Utah State.
“At that point in my life, growing up in Miami, big city, fast life Carson Newman gave me something a little different,” Killings said. “…It was a Christian College, a smaller town and a different atmosphere. I felt my new environment would give me a new outlook on life.”
Killings majored in recreational management while at Carson Newman and quickly became a standout player on the football field for the Eagles. Killings was a four-year All-American, and garnered South Atlantic Conference Player of the Year honors as a senior. Killings reflected on the valuable lessons he learned while at Carson Newman University.
“I learned the importance of teamwork, faith and ability to trust the man upstairs. Everything is going to work out according to His will, as long as we stay patient and stay the course.”
Toward the end of his career at Carson Newman, Killings was encouraged by head coach Ken Sparks to lose weight to become a better every-down player. Sparks’ advice helped Killings improve upon his ability as a pass rusher, which enabled him to gain the attention of the San Francisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Though NFL teams showed interest, his name was never called on draft day. “I was sitting there on draft day, but my phone never rang,” Killings said. “The good Lord saw it through and the 49ers gave me a call and said they wanted to invite me out to their training camp.”
Killings remembers an unfavorable scouting report he received upon entering the NFL.
“Mel Kiper projected me as a camp body at best, but I worked at it nonstop. I knew that the opportunity was presented to me for a reason, and I knew I had to make the most of it.”
Killings, a long-time 49ers fan not only made the team, but he made the active roster as a result of his insatiable work ethic, ability to contribute on downs, and as a blocker on special teams. Killings added,
“It was the ultimate, being out there and playing for the 49ers. I was tenth on the depth chart but I learned to take it day-by-day, practice-by-practice, and get in extra work whenever I could. I studied my playbook as much as I could because the game is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. I had to learn how to become a student of the game.”
Killings played 14 games with the 49ers in the year 2000, and started one game for the team. In 2001, injuries and depth at his position played a significant role in his release. He was later claimed by the Cleveland Browns, and subsequently the Carolina Panthers who ultimately released him as well.
Despite being released from multiple teams, Killings remained resolute in his quest to find an NFL home. In 2002, he made the Minnesota Vikings active roster. He made the team once again in 2003, but was released.
In 2004, Killings was picked up by the Washington Redskins and was presented with a unique opportunity to play in NFL Europe. At this juncture, Killings deliberated whether or not his goal would merely become a dream deferred, or if he should in fact take his talents to Germany to play for the Rhein Fire. Killings said,
“I talked it over and prayed about it with my family, and I knew it was what I had to do. I took off to Germany, to play with the Rhein Fire. It was a great experience. … A lot of guys that were there came back to the states and made good careers for themselves in the NFL. The guys I was there with, James Harrison, Danny Wilcox and Earthwind Moreland, represented a ton of guys that just needed an opportunity to show they could play the game. It was a humbling experience. I was able to get reps, and come back to Washington and have one of my better seasons in my NFL career.”
Killings returned to the United States in 2005, and had one of his most productive seasons since his rookie year. He appeared in 10 games, made one start and played in two playoff games. With future success in Washington seemingly imminent, the business side of the NFL would again rear its ugly head. In 2006, the team acquired two defensive linemen in the offseason via the NFL draft. Killings was released irrespective of putting together his best preseason of his career.
On Sept. 3, Killings was injured during a routine kickoff return against the Indianapolis Colts while setting a wedge. “Special teams had always been a big part of my game because I was a tenacious blocker,” Killings said. “I could control the wedge, and set up blocks and create lanes for the returners. Hitting people is what I loved to do.”
During the kickoff return, Killings noticed a receiver running down the field completely unblocked. Without having the opportunity to build up speed, and unsure of whether or not it was his responsibility to make the block, he instinctively did so in an effort to protect the kickoff returner. Killings said,
“I made a block that I made several times before, the only difference was this time I didn’t come out at the other end.”
Killings recalled falling to the ground with a tingly, burning sensation in his arms. “I remember talking to the trainers and they were asking me basic questions,” Killings said. “The final thing they asked me to do was move my foot.
“I looked down at my foot and I’m sending the message to move my foot, but I couldn’t move it. For a brief second I almost hit the panic button. I have so many people depending on me, and I’ve always been a provider, now I might be in a situation where I’m going to depend on others.”
Killings’ mother sat at home weepily as she watch her son lie motionless on the turf. Killings’ oldest son Cadrien who was also watching the game from home proceeded to declare victory over his father’s injury. While the trainers immobilized Killings, and loaded him onto a stretcher Cadrien, professed to his grandmother that his father would be just fine.
“Once my son spoke that into the atmosphere my body must have responded. A sense of peace came over me,” Killings said. Shortly after being taken off of the field, I started to get a little movement back in my foot. From there it progressively got better.”
Killings sustained a non-displaced fracture to his C4 vertebrae, which thankfully didn’t warrant surgery. He was required to wear a neck brace for six weeks, but doctors later revealed to him that he could’ve been confined to a wheelchair had there been a couple more pounds of force associated with his collision. Doctors also conveyed to him that he would be risking permanent paralysis by continuing to play. “I knew I had to make the right decision for my family and my kids,” Killings said. It was time to hang up the cleats and leave the game.”
Killings received letters from friends, acquaintances, and strangers expressing love and concern, which aided him through his recovery process. When asked what was the most difficult part of his recovery Killings said,
“Waiting to see how my body would heal and knowing that I had to count on somebody else for extra help here and there. My wife helped, as did other family members. I had always been the one helping, but this time I actually needed the help and it was tough. I just had to stay patient and keep the faith.”
With all that he’s endured, Killings has absolutely no regrets as he steadfastly believes that his injury had to occur in order to help someone. Killings said,
“Maybe my injury touched someone’s life in a way that it sparked a change, and if it helped one person, I’d go through it all again.”
The very nature of Killings’ injury was certainly the catalyst for change in the NFL. Due to the mechanics behind the play in which Killings was injured, the NFL adopted rules changes to prevent comparable injuries.
One of the changes was that kickoffs were moved up from the 30, to the 35-yard line.
Another change was that teams are no longer allowed to form three-man wedges with players joining hands. Wedges are now comprised of a maximum of two players, who must be at least two yards apart from one another. Violation of the rule will result in a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“I’m glad to see the changes,” Killings said. “Anything that can be done to make the game safer is a plus.”
After eight years in the NFL, which culminated in a career-ending injury, Killings took a well-deserved hiatus, from the sport he loves. “After I left the game, I just wanted to be away for a while,” Killings said. “I was in the healing process still. My arm was still burning and would get numb on occasion, but when I sat down and I watched the games, it was almost as if I could smell the grass through the television. But it took a few years before I entertained doing anything pertaining to the game of football.
Cedric now resides in Miami, Florida with his wife Shavondra and his three children Cadrien, Cairell and Savanna. With the love and support of his family, Cedric has gradually become more involved with football since his playing days came to a sudden halt.
Killings has contributed as an assistant coach on a little league team, and actively participates in the Miami Dolphins summer program, which is predicated on enhancing player safety, and teaching proper technique. Killings is currently an assistant coach at Carol City high school where he’s not only coaching kids to become better players, he’s also turning high school boys into men. Killings elaborated on his impact on the youth through coaching.
“I know the value of the knowledge I possess, what I could do for these kids from a safety aspect, and from the standpoint of just building character. I felt like that was something I could give back to the community. The minute that they understand what you’ve been teaching them, and it makes sense to them, that’s everything to me. That’s what ultimately brought me back to the game.”
There are countless lessons to be learned from Killing’s story, but he made it perfectly clear what he believes young men can gain from his football journey.
“You have to keep your blinders on and keep pressing forward. No matter the situation, no matter the circumstance, there is a plan for you and your journey. The only one that is in control of that is you. You can only control what you do. You can’t control what someone else does, or how situations unfold, but you can control your effort, and what you put into it.”
Killings took the time to deliver a powerful message that he often shares with the players he coaches regarding opportunity. Please listen to a segment of the phone interview with Killings posted below.
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