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Oklahoma football: Sooners' David King a product of a promise kept between two mothers

On Friday, David King will lead the Sooner defense one last time when OU faces Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. King got to this point thanks to the love of his two mothers: the one who kept him off the streets and the other who kept a promise.
BY STEPHANIE KUZYDYM, Staff Writer, Published: January 2, 2013

photo - Before this year’s Bedlam game David King stood at midfield and was honored as the winner of the 2012 Don Key Award, given to a senior football player who excelled on and off the field. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman Archives
Before this year’s Bedlam game David King stood at midfield and was honored as the winner of the 2012 Don Key Award, given to a senior football player who excelled on and off the field. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman Archives

As David King ran onto Owen Field one last time, Stacy McVaney sat on the bleachers, surrounded by players' parents, and wept.

Stacy is a crier. Balled up in her right hand was a mangled, damp tissue.

Moments like this make her follow up her tears with a prayer.

Stacy — a broad-shouldered woman with a stern face but a soft, kind heart — took a deep breath, blew out, looked up to the sky and silently spoke to her good friend, Gladys King, David's mother.

“You have to be enjoying this,” she said, fighting back more tears. “You did a wonderful job raising this child and I hope you're getting to see the man he's grown into.”

On Friday, that man will lead the Sooner defense one last time when Oklahoma plays Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. He'll do so as a senior defensive end and a player whose character earned him Oklahoma's annual award given to a player who excels on and off the field.

David King becoming this leader is the product of Gladys King, a single mother who shielded her son from Houston's toughest streets, who worked to place him into one of Texas' most exclusive prep schools and who had a vision of a better future for him. All she needed was someone to help carry out that vision.

That help came from Stacy McVaney and her family. Stacy, the mother of one of David's high school friends and the wife of a minority owner of the Houston Astros, helped fulfill a dying mother's wish.

This is the story of David's two mothers — the one who kept him off the streets and the other who kept a promise.

* * *

The McVaneys and the Kings are from different worlds.  The roof caved in on David's house on Kashmere Street, which the McVaneys said is one of the worst streets in Houston. The McVaneys live in a cookie-cutter house on a street of manicured lawns and sidewalks.

About nine years ago, Stacy McVaney walked into her kitchen and saw David, then 15 years old, sitting on a chair.

Stacy's son, Jeff, had become close friends with David through football at Strake Jesuit High School, one of the best prep schools in Texas. Tuition at the school is close to $16,000 a year, but David received good financial aid and his mother saw it as another step away from Kashmere Street. 

David used to sit at the school for hours waiting between classes and a game or for his mom to get off work and pick him up.

Jeff came home and asked Stacy one day if David could come home with him after school.

“His mom usually didn't let him go with anyone," Stacy said. "She was really strict raising him. She didn't let him go out. Kept him from parties.”

But Gladys agreed. David called them Mr. and Mrs. McVaney. He seemed respectful. They knew his mother and his Uncle Phillip, who carried a cane he used to keep David in line, wanted him to have a better life.

David was raised to follow rules. So was Jeff. Stacy and John ran a tight ship in their house with their daughter and two sons — Katie, Tom and Jeff. 

Hanging out with the McVaney kids, David wouldn't be sneaking away to get involved in anything that could ruin his chance at a future away from the red and blue police lights that often lit his neighborhood.

David and Jeff also began to play church-league basketball together. That's where Stacy and John got to know Gladys and Phillip. The families began to have dinners together after the basketball games, and they quickly grew close.

Phillip, though, was battling cancer. One day, he stunned the McVaneys when he stopped by their house. He wasn't able to get out of the car, so John went out to see him.

“If anything happens to Gladys or me, I want to know you'll take care of the boy,” Phillip said.

“Promise me,” Phillip had said, and John promised. Two days later, the only male figure in David's life passed away.

The McVaneys didn't know how soon they would be keeping their promise.

* * *

Once Phillip passed, the McVaneys watched as the 52-year-old Gladys' health spiraled. She had been dealing with diabetes, but her deteriorating health came as a shock.

“Your son needs you,” Stacy would silently pray to Gladys as she sat next to her hospital bed. “You have to get better.”

Stacy and John went to visit Gladys at Houston's inner-city hospital.

“We're kin to Gladys King,” John had said the first time. “We're here to see her.”

“The hospital staff looked at us like we were crazy,” Stacy said. “They could clearly tell we weren't biologically her family.”

Over the months, though, the hospital staff came to understand the family the McVaneys and Kings had come to be.

Stacy would visit Gladys often since David was in Norman in his first season as a backup lineman. Stacy decorated Gladys' room with framed photos of David and OU memorabilia. They would talk about their sons' college adventures, and Gladys made sure every nurse knew David was a football player at OU.

They'd also talk about how thankful they were that race didn't matter and that they raised their boys with the same expectations.

That's when Gladys asked Stacy to make a promise. Gladys wanted to know that if anything happened to her, Stacy and John would finish raising David.

“She said she saw how we were raising our boys and just trusted us,” Stacy said.  “People always say, ‘I can't believe you took on raising someone else's child,' but what else would anyone do when your friend asks you to do that?”

Stacy made a mother's promise.

During a small Christmas break before the Sooners flew to El Paso for the Sun Bowl against Stanford in 2009, David spent the night at the McVaneys. Tom and Jeff went with him to the hospital on Christmas Day.

The McVaneys and David watched as Gladys lost all recognition of her loved ones. David tried to hide the pain.

Stacy and John visited her in early February, and Stacy said Gladys seemed OK. The next day their phone rang. The doctor was calling to talk to John.

They weren't sure how much time was left.

John called David, who was at school, to tell him he had booked a flight for David to fly to Houston. When Stacy and John got to the hospital, family was already gathered. Gladys was gone.

David hadn't even boarded his flight in Oklahoma City. It had been delayed. John called David to tell him his mother was gone.

In shock and grief, David boarded the flight. By the time they picked him up from the airport in Houston, Stacy was a mess. David looked like a zombie, and John was just trying to hold it together for David.

As they drove back to the hospital, Stacy silently prayed that David would cry. She thought it would help him deal with the pain.

“I'm not a very emotional person,” David said. “There were times that I did cry, but I don't like to show emotion in front of people but I went off or took car rides and thought about everything.

“I had to be strong for my family. I didn't want them to see me all down. The times were hard. I cried, but nobody ever saw it.”

When they got to the hospital, Stacy and John watched as his family clung to him and wept.

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