Klein taking on image of K-State coach
Published on -9/10/2012, 10:16 AM
By DAVE SKRETTA
MANHATTAN -- Collin Klein has yet to show up wearing old-school Nike Cortez kicks.
He hasn't started referring to his Kansas State teammates as "youngsters," or dug up a wind jacket from the '93 Copper Bowl. His hairline isn't backpedaling, his youthful face remains without wrinkle, and he doesn't hike his up khakis to his ribcage, at least not in public.
In many other ways, though, he's starting to resemble his wily old coach.
Just like Bill Snyder, who raised the Kansas State program from the ashes, Klein refuses to believe greatness is ever good enough. He's mild-mannered off the field and a caged lion on it, a church-going, God-fearing battering ram who refuses to quit, blood and bruises be damned.
Here's the thing: Klein is keenly aware of it.
The senior quarterback had just run roughshod over Miami, piling up nearly 300 yards of total offense and accounting for four touchdowns in a 52-13 whipping, but still couldn't get himself to waver from the even keel that has suited the No. 15 Wildcats so well the past couple years.
"I mean, in a way coach is rubbing off on me," Klein conceded, "because what I'm thinking about right now are the two field goals we had to kick inside the 10."
Or the trick-play down around the goal line that resulted in a fumble.
When asked about it, Klein simply let out a slow, "Shuuucks." After all, he would never curse out loud, even if a few choice words went through his mind at the time. That's the kind of poise he exhibits in the pocket, or when he's running Kansas State's unorthodox read-option offense.
In short, the temperament that has turned him into one of the nation's most dynamic players.
This is the same guy, after all, who chose Kansas State over Air Force, Colorado State and Utah. Alabama and Oklahoma weren't beating down his door in Loveland, Colo., not for some gangly 6-foot-4 prospect labeled a "pro-style quarterback" despite a slightly funky throwing motion.
This is the same guy who played wide receiver and special teams when he arrived in Manhattan, a sleepy college town that stirs from its slumber on autumn Saturdays. Klein didn't switch back to quarterback until his sophomore year, and then hardly played at all.
This is the guy who finally got a chance last season, and proved to everyone who counted him out that he could be a leader. Klein ran for 27 touchdowns, passed for 13 more and almost certainly led the nation in time spent in the trainers' room, his steadfast self-assurance and feisty playing style pacing the Wildcats to 10 victories and a berth in the Cotton Bowl.
"He's improved at everything," Snyder said, "because he works diligently to get better at everything. He's better in the passing game, he's gotten better in leadership, managing the game. I mean, he's just a guy who works diligently to get better, and he's done that across the board."
In doing so, Klein has joined some rare company.
The only other quarterbacks in the BCS era with at least 20 rushing TDs and 10 passing scores in a single season each won the Heisman Trophy and a national championship: Nebraska's Eric Crouch in 2000, Florida's Tim Tebow in 2007 and Cam Newton of Auburn in 2010.
Like Crouch, and to some extent Tebow, Klein is most comfortable on the ground.
Only twice did he throw for at least 200 yards last season -- he had 210 against Miami on Saturday -- but he ran for more than 100 five times. Every game after the season opener he had at least one touchdown rushing, and on five occasions he had three or more.
That included his finest single-game performance, a four-overtime thriller against Texas A&M, when he threw for 281 yards and a touchdown while running for 103 yards and five more scores.
"He's good. I can't imagine there's a better running quarterback in the country," Miami coach Al Golden said. "He's fast in terms of his top-end speed -- he'll make you miss -- and then he'll run you over. His durability must be off the charts. He gets strong as the game goes on."
Still, all the pounding took its toll last season, and Klein ultimately realized that he'd end up in the emergency ward if he didn't figure out a way to avoid taking so many shots.
So, he spent most of the off-season refining his throwing motion, and then decided to take the same approach that professional golfer Jim Furyk did with his swing: He embraced it.
It may look awkward, but it's repeatable and it gets the job done.
The Wildcats barely unleashed their offense in a season-opening, 51-9 victory over Missouri State, but the Hurricanes got the full dose of it. Klein was 9 of 11 through the air and hit five different targets, three of the completions going for at least 30 yards.