By Kellis Robinett
Tribune News Service
MANHATTAN — Collin Klein knows exactly what Kansas State’s top four quarterbacks face this month as they compete to win a starting job in preseason practices.
He faced the same challenge six years ago.
Klein, now an offensive graduate assistant, was a redshirt freshman back then. He would go on to lead the Wildcats to a Big 12 championship and into national title contention as a senior in 2012, finishing third in Heisman Trophy voting along the way, but this was 2009 and he was still an unproven passer fighting for playing time. To earn it, he would have to best fellow quarterbacks Carson Coffman, Grant Gregory and Joe Kassanavoid.
“There were four of us for an extended period of time,” Klein said Saturday at K-State’s media day. “We split reps, just like this group is doing now. It was intense, as you would expect.”
The makeup of that position battle is similar to the current one.
Klein and Kassanavoid were redshirt freshmen, Coffman was a junior and Gregory was a graduate transfer from South Florida who joined the team that offseason. K-State coach Bill Snyder was in his first year back.
Today, freshman Alex Delton, junior-college transfer Jonathan Banks, sophomore Jesse Ertz and junior Joe Hubener are vying for the top spot. Snyder is still going strong.
Perhaps what happened then can provide hints for what will happen now.
“About halfway through camp Carson and Grant took control,” Klein said. “That was when the coaches were like, ‘Hey, this kid can run. Let’s have him take a rep at quarterback, then take a rep at receiver, then take a rep at tight end and then go back to quarterback.’ I never stopped practicing at quarterback that year, but I played receiver and spent time on special teams. They lined me up all over the place.”
Indeed, Klein recalls catching a touchdown pass, throwing on trick plays and embarrassing himself on special teams, pointing to the exact spot at Snyder Family Stadium where he fell to the ground trying to tackle a Texas A&M kick returner. Fortunately, he said, the return man tripped on Klein’s facemask while he was down.
K-State’s current quarterbacks seem unlikely to switch positions, though. Delton, for example, would become a redshirt candidate if he is not in the mix for playing time. And Banks said Saturday he enrolled in junior college and then K-State with the specific intent to play quarterback. Lining up elsewhere does not interest him.
In 2009, Coffman was ultimately named starting quarterback for the opener, but he struggled through a 2-2 start. Then Gregory was handed the keys to the offense in the fifth game, a 24-23 victory over Iowa State. He kept the job the rest of the season. Kassanavoid moved to special teams and eventually left the program. K-State went 6-6 that season, missing a bowl game.
K-State quarterbacks will have some extra help this time around, though.
With Klein working as an assistant quarterbacks coach under co-offensive coordinators Dana Dimel and Del Miller, they will have someone to turn to for guidance. Whether they require help with their throwing mechanics, the playbook or responding to Snyder, Klein will be there ready to help.
Not only has he lived what they are going through, they share athletic skills as dual-threat quarterbacks.
“This year I can see us going back to being an offense where we run the ball a lot more like we did with Collin Klein as quarterback,” Dimel said. “All four of our quarterbacks are great runners.”
Klein is ready to work with them.
“I like all four quarterbacks,” Klein said. “Top to bottom, we have got great athletes, guys who are good with their arms and their legs. It’s a great group. Who rises out of it is hard to predict, but I can tell you it will be somebody good.”