BLACKFOOT – A Blackfoot fan in a green long-sleeved shirt queued the photo on his phone and waltzed forward with an eager grin.
“Ja'Vonte,” he hollered. “You’ve got to see this.”
Ja'Vonte King had already seen the picture a half-dozen times. He’ll probably see it a few dozen more over the next day or so. And it may be the indelible image from high school or, at least, from his football career.
The Broncos were tied with Snake River midway through the third quarter. Then King nearly broke the minds of all those sitting on metal bleachers of Highland, conjuring up a feat that seemed only possible in the Matrix.
In what became a 35-21 Broncos' win, Blackfoot quarterback Jaxon Grimmett stared down King on a 2nd-and-long, waiting until the junior was a step in front of Snake River cornerback Rylan Anderson.
Problem was, Grimmett under threw the 38-yard rainbow. King couldn’t keep his stride, twisting his chest to the ball as his momentum halted just before the goal line. Anderson played the ball as good as one could. He kept his eyes on his receiver and stuck his gloves in King’s eyesight.
What happened next feels like a blur.
It takes a few replays to fully grasp the difficultly of King’s catch. As the ball came down, King leaped backward and stuck out his right arm like he was trying to corral a fluttering feather, not a pigskin spiraling down to the Earth. Somehow, he wrapped his long right mit around the leather and kept the ball above the turf as a dropped to the ground. The flags began to fly as King laid on the 1-yard line with the ball pinned against his chest.
“I thought it was incomplete at first, said Ramirez. “I saw a bunch of flags come in but I knew it wasn’t on him.”
“I didn’t even know I caught it, really,” King added. “I kind of hit it and brought it in.”
The crowd stood quiet for a second because surely there’s no way a high school junior could have pulled down that ball. Then the refs waved their arms and confirmed Ja'Vonte King is otherworldly and the thousand or so at Blackfoot went ballistic.
“That’s some OBJ stuff,” Grimmett said postgame, referring to Odell Beckham Jr.’s wild one-handed grab from 2014.
In the press box, Blackfoot basketball coach Clint Arave struggled to contain his excitement.
“Ja'Vonte does some startling stuff,” he said later in a text. “That was definitely Ja'Vonte style! He always seems to make some noise.”
Since Friday, though, most of King’s noise had come on the hardwood. The 6-foot-4 wing developed into one of the better basketball players in the area last season – a long playmaker with the ability to step back and knock down a 3 or drive inside and put a helpless defender on a poster.
In the preseason, Blackfoot football coach Jerrod Ackley had a clear message for his big receiver: You can be one of the best in the state in basketball and football.
“We went to the Boise State football camp and the Boise State staff was really excited about Ja'Vonte. I think he has that kind of upside,” Ackley said in mid-August. “We’d like to see Ja'Vonte take his game to the next level.”
A month later, Ackley’s wish is looking promising.
“That was definitely the kind of stuff – last year, he doesn’t make that catch,” Ackley said. “A lot of times, those challenged balls he wouldn’t come down with until the end of the year.”
Against Snake River, King finished with five catches for a game-high 137 yards and a score.
What makes Blackfoot so lethal is the weapons it compliments King with. Six-foot-3 wide out Deegan Hale caught a game-high seven passes for 116 yards and the Broncos’ lone first-half score. Ramirez ran the ball for 82 yards and three touchdowns, ramming into the Snake River like a wind-up toy that hits a wall but keeps its lower half moving. And defensive back Tyler Vance iced the game with a fourth-quarter interception.
“We all kind of complement each other,” Ramirez said. “When our passing game is doing good, our run game opens up. When our run game is doing good, our passing game opens up.”
With weapons galore, the real mystery around Blackfoot is how its first win of the season didn’t come until Friday. Before that, the Broncos fell to Thunder Ridge and Idaho Falls by a combined two points – a pair of agonizing defeats that could have left lesser programs for dead.
But the Broncos – as they showed scoring 35 unanswered points after falling victim to a 14-0 deficit to Snake River – have resolve.
“Sometimes everything seems to be going against you and then something switches momentum,” Ackley said.
On Friday, that switch came with King’s acrobatics.