Tag Archives: Collin Klein Heisman

The Case for Collin Klein

4 Dec
Collin Klein and jubilant teammates celebrate the program's third conference championship in 117 years of football. (Photo by Jamie Squire)

Collin Klein and jubilant teammates celebrate the program’s third conference championship in 117 years of football. (Photo by Jamie Squire)

Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein knows all this is highly improbable.

“If you would have asked anybody a couple years ago if we’d be sitting here having this conversation today, they probably wouldn’t have believed you,” the Heisman Trophy candidate said, adding with a laugh, “and would have put a lot of money down on it.”

A home-schooled kid from Loveland, Colo., Klein struggled in his first couple years in then-new coach Bill Snyder’s system, even moving down the depth chart at times as he worked at wide receiver and on special teams.

Fast forward a couple years, and Klein was at the mall with his wife, Shalin, shopping for a trip that will culminate in New York, where Collin is a candidate for the Heisman Trophy thanks to his tireless work and that of his fellow Wildcats (11-1).

Sure, it might be considered surprising, but Klein quickly disputes the notion that circumstances simply fell into place.

“There’s definitely a lot to it,” he said. “I don’t know if I’d call them random. Everything happens for a reason, and some crazy things have happened to lead our team and myself to this point. There are a lot of reasons for that. There’s a lot of hard work, a lot of preparation that have been put in on so many people’s part.”

Obviously, Kansas State’s entire team played an enormous role in Klein achieving what he has this year. It is an easy argument to make, however, that he has spearheaded a leadership movement that pushed this team to reach its potential in a way that few others around the country have.

***

Perhaps one of the most obvious aspects of Klein’s leadership is that he is never satisfied with his own performance, even though he has been tremendously effective, even though he gets boatloads of attention, even though the team has won consistently.

This is his second year at quarterback, and he says he still has plenty to learn, that he would not say he has necessarily mastered the playbook. There is more that can be done, and he’s okay with that. He welcomes that. He’s more than willing to tackle that.

“I still want to know more,” he said. “There’s still new nuances, new things that we can do and stuff. I guess that constant feeling of being comfortable with being uncomfortable and constantly trying to improve is something.”

It certainly is something. It’s something that has propelled the Wildcats to more wins than anyone outside the program ever predicted.

After all, how could any other player justify giving less than everything when the guy who seemingly would have the least to prove is the hardest worker on the team?

***

The other part of Klein’s leadership, the part those outside the program rarely see, is that the quarterback is almost as tough on his teammates as he is on himself. Unlike many athletes, he avoids swearing, but he knows how to get his point across. Other players respond because Klein has laid the foundation of relationship with each of them.

“You can’t ‘win anybody over,’” Klein said. “You’ve got to care for them and put their needs and their interests above your own, and they sense that, and they know that, and they know if it’s real or not. Folks aren’t – you can’t pull the wool over their eyes. They’re going to know if you’ve got their back or not.”

While Klein might not display emotion using four-letter words, he can still be fiery and powerful when he needs to get through to someone.

“People have taught and shown me you can be passionate and firm and very strong without swearing in someone’s face,” Klein said. “There have come a few times where I’ve had to do that. As long as the caring part is there and the heart for them is there, and it’s been there since you’ve known them, then when the time comes you have some creditability, and they trust you and they know that it’s because I care about, ultimately, you and this team.”

Of course, Klein points out – again – that none of this applies to him alone.

“As a leader, you have to be willing to put yourself out there and hold people accountable,” he said. “I’ve had to do it, but a lot of our teammates have done that, especially this season, from the seniors and all leadership positions, and it’s paid off.”

***

Another essential element of Klein is his perspective. It stems from his Christian faith, and it gives him peace in what might for otherwise be a rather turbulent and nerve-wracking time: traveling to three cities in three days to accept some awards and find out about others.

For Klein, though, there is more. His goal is bigger than the Heisman, bigger than the national championship, bigger than any of that. It’s this:

“Trying to be the best I can be with what God’s given me, trying to serve this team to the fullest with everything I possibly have and invest in the lives of people, which is the most important thing, and those people are my teammates and the people around here.”

Klein is confident those pursuits are worthy of his time and energy.

“That’s more important and will leave a longer legacy than any award, even as prestigious as the Heisman,” he said, “and with that perspective, and knowing that, that kind of puts it all in order for me.”

His grasp of a bigger picture also prevents him from dwelling on regret and what might have been. The loss to Baylor ruined Kansas State’s championship hopes and possibly Klein’s Heisman chances as well. He’s far from immune to the pain of that loss, but he knows there is more out there.

“It’s going to be a hard one forever,” he said. “It’s something probably none of us will ever forget. The lesson, and the response of our team in being able to bounce back, get back on the horse, finish, finish like we did, was huge and a valuable lesson. Who knows however many times you’re going to have to use it. Life’s not going to be easy, so it’s just about how you bounce back and respond and move forward.”

***

What does moving forward mean for Klein after graduation? Will he pursue an NFL career? Will he make use of his finance degree? What’s next for a player who has been compared to Tim Tebow and has brought more attention and success to Kansas State than it has enjoyed for so long?

 The short answer: He does not know.

The longer answer: He knows the goals he wants to achieve regardless of what profession he enters.

“I want to honor and serve my Lord and Savior,” Klein said. “I want to take care of my family spiritually, financially and physically and serve the people in whatever community I happen to be in at the time. Whatever that looks like, if it’s using my finance degree, or if it’s playing ball, if it’s a mixture of both, who knows. Who knows what it could be. Whatever it looks like, as long as those three things are intact, will be just fine.”

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And so it ends

17 Nov

Kansas State’s undefeated streak came to a screeching halt on Saturday night in Waco, Texas, of all places.

Going into the game, Baylor had a losing record (4-5) and just one win in conference play. Nevertheless, the Bears executed well enough to beat the Wildcats 52-24, dealing Kansas State its first loss of the season in compelling fashion.

Linebacker Tre Walker had sustained season-ending injury a couple games earlier. Last week Kansas State lost wide receiver Curry Sexton and safety Ty Zimmerman as well. The Wildcats could hardly use wide receiver and kick returner Tyler Lockett at all against the Bears. Linebacker Jarell Childs and defensive ends Meshak Williams and Adam Davis all came out of the game at different points in Saturday’s game after being checked by trainers.

In one fell swoop, the dreams of a team, community and fan base fell flat. The expectation is that this single loss has killed Kansas State’s chances to play for a national championship as well as quarterback Collin Klein’s bid for the Heisman Trophy.

The Wildcats, who are all about avoiding mistakes, particularly turnovers and penalties, made uncharacteristic errors on Saturday night.

Klein threw three interceptions, as many as he had in the previous 10 games combined. The Wildcats racked up 60 yards in penalties, when their average during the season had been 25.1. 

Of course, credit goes to the Bears as well. Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said during the week that Baylor actually had a very balanced offense, despite how many passing yards it had recorded. He said the disparity in their rushing versus passing numbers was due to the fact that the Bears had often been in situations where they were playing from behind and thus throwing the ball more than running it.

Snyder was right.

Baylor amassed 580 yards of offense, including 342 on the ground. Lache Seastrunk rushed for 185 yards, and Giasco Martin added 118.

The Bears’ defense also had a stellar performance, guided by coordinator Phil Bennett, who coached in the same position under Snyder from 1999-2001. Clearly, whatever plan he put in place worked wonderfully.

The Wildcats only gained 76 yards on the ground, including just 43 from John Hubert and 39 from Klein. Though Kansas State got 286 yards through the air, it took 51 pass attempts, an almost unbelievable number by what is usually a more run-heavy attack.

On Dec. 1 the Wildcats will play their final game of the regular season at home against Texas.

On Cloud 9(-0)

4 Nov

Kansas State’s 44-30 victory over Oklahoma State last night was the first in a while.

When the Wildcats beat the Cowboys back in 2006, even the upperclassmen on the current rosters were still in high school. Accordingly, Kansas State was highly motivated – to win, of course, but also to vanquish a team it had not put away for several years.

When players spoke with the media on Tuesday, fullback Braden Wilson said the drought against the Cowboys was indeed something that was discussed.

“Collin said that nobody on our team has beaten Oklahoma State,” Wilson said. “That’s a big deal, especially after the heartbreak of last year. This is a game that we really want – like we really want. We’re serious about it.”

Apparently, what the Wildcats want, they get – and not by accident.

By extending their winning streak to nine games, the Wildcats showed they were serious about much more than avenging last year’s devastating 52-45 loss in Stillwater. Sure, Kansas State is just talking about the next game (and then the next, and then the next). Add all that together, though, and you get the feeling that something very special is possible for this team.

But I digress. Back to the here and now …

***

Obviously the main concern following Saturday’s game is the status of quarterback and Heisman Trophy contender Collin Klein. He left the game midway through the third quarter – much earlier than coach Bill Snyder would ever consider it safe to take him out of the game.

Klein sat on the bench and talked to a trainer. His brother, Kyle, sat next to him. Tre Walker and Ethan Douglas came over and prayed with him. Klein watched the rest of the game from the sideline, looking fine but without his helmet. He smiled and chatted with various coaches and players.

Snyder does not discuss injuries, but after the game, he said, “Obviously he was injured or we wouldn’t have taken him out.”

On the one hand, Klein did not appear to be seriously injured. On the other hand, we all know he was hardy enough to have been allowed to play through considerable injuries during last season. Maybe Kansas State is just being more cautious than it was with him last season. Maybe something more is wrong.

Either way, we likely will not know the extent of it until Saturday.

***

With the caveat that Oklahoma State’s quarterbacks are young and relatively inexperienced, the Kansas State secondary looked promising. It gave up too many long passes, but it also intercepted four balls and should have had another three or four.

In particular, defensive back Allen Chapman made a name for himself. He picked off three passes, including one in the Cowboys’ end zone. If that pass had instead been caught by Oklahoma State, it would have put the Cowboys within a touchdown of the Wildcats with several minutes still to play. Chapman returned another of his interceptions 29 yards for a touchdown.

His performance fell short of only that of Kansas State great Jaime Mendez, the Wildcats’ leader in career interceptions and a member of Kansas State’s Ring of Honor. Mendez once intercepted four passes in the course of a single game.

***

Of course, another positive on Saturday came in the form of a 100-yard kickoff return by Tyler Lockett. Looking at Oklahoma State’s stats, I discovered that the Cowboys have actually given up a 100-yard kick return already this season, so they might not be the best competition in this area.

Still, for Lockett to be able to take it from one end zone to the other means that the special teams unit did everything exactly right, and that is impressive. What is more amazing is that Lockett nearly broke another return for a score.

Lockett still gave the Wildcats great field position, but had he gone outside of a block instead of inside it, he might have gotten loose again. Tramaine Thompson recognized what could have been immediately, throwing up his hands right after the play.

The failure to break that return too was maddening, but that the rest of the special teams unit performed so well that the returner would even have the opportunity to take two kickoffs to the house … well, the potential is staggering.

***

As usual, there is plenty on which the Wildcats can still improve. As I mentioned earlier, Oklahoma State got too many long pass plays. In addition to enabling a Kansas State kickoff return for a touchdown, the special teams unit also allowed one by the Cowboys. The list goes on.

Everything taken into account, however, I think it would be crazy to think that the possibility of a visit to Sun Life Stadium is not in Kansas State’s future.

Indeed, even after his team’s defeat, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy had nothing but good to say about the Wildcats.

“They’re a good football team,” Gundy said. “They don’t make mistakes, we all know. They’ve got a very mature quarterback that makes plays, and they could be arguably the best team in the country in special teams.”

Snyder remembers

23 Oct

Every now and again, Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder will dodge a question by claiming forgetfulness. Though I’m somewhat skeptical, it might be true that the 73-year-old can no longer recall every detail of every game of the last 20-some years.

What he does remember are people.

On Tuesday I asked Snyder if he remembered a guy by the name of Jaime Mendez, a safety who played four years for the Wildcats beginning in 1990 – the year this senior in college was born. Needless to say, it has been a while since Mendez was on campus.

Except it really hasn’t. Snyder saw Mendez just a couple weeks ago, when the former player stopped by for a visit while in town.

“I remember an awful lot about him,” Snyder said. “He was not only a very talented player for us, came out of Ohio, young guy that just came here and does all the things we like for him to do, played extremely well for us, was a very successful player, is in the Ring of Honor up here, consensus All-American. He moved out to California, in fact married a very successful actress, has started his own business and has done quite well, and I still appreciate him.”

***

Players are not the only ones Snyder appreciates. All coaches credit fans for their support, but Kansas State’s coach does so with unmatched fervency and sincerity.

He talked Tuesday about the fans but also praised the football team’s support staff, naming several individuals representative of everyone inside the program, whose contributions few on the outside ever realize. These are the people who make the road trips go off without a hitch, who make the arrangements so the Wildcats get the consistency prior to each game that Snyder considers so vital.

The coach talked in particular about the journey to West Virginia, which he described as one of the most complex trips to organize. Upon arrival, Kansas State was greeted by Robert Lipson, who has been to every home game and conference road game since 1972.

Lipson might be described as something of an oddball, being so dedicated to the Wildcats that year after year after year he drives to every contest and sleeps in his car when he gets there.

As is evident by the year he began following the team, however, Lipson believed in Kansas State long before anybody else did. He supported the program long before the Wildcats gained national attention, and in fact, he remained a fan even while the program went through one of the most futile stretches in its history.

Snyder has not forgotten that loyalty.

“Who do I see when I get to the hotel? Robert,” Snyder said, then paused. “And everybody laughs. Bottom line is, he has a passion for it, and it means something to him. Young people, all of us, myself included, we need to have a great appreciation for that, someone who shows that kind of passion for what you do and makes the kind of sacrifices. Robert probably has the first car ever made, and it probably is on its last leg, and you can imagine … very meaningful.”

***

People matter to Snyder.

Tuesday might have been the only time I’ve heard him come close to raising his voice, and the brusqueness came in support of one of his players. A reporter asked the coach if quarterback Collin Klein is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. The coach had shot down the question in previous media sessions as an unfair one because Snyder does not watch film on all the other players out there who are being considered for the award. This was his response:

“I think Collin Klein is worthy of anything that he receives,” Snyder said with conviction. “He is an absolutely wonderful young man, a tremendously talented player. I haven’t seen all the people in the country. I can’t do that. If I’m going to vote, I’m going to vote on what I see, and I’ve seen him to be as fine a player as anybody.”

For as much success as he has had on the football field, the lasting legacy of Klein will not be winning the Heisman Trophy or even quarterbacking his team to a national title, if indeed the Wildcats continue their undefeated streak. Klein will be remembered for the person he is and for how he values other people.

For Snyder, it is the same.

The bond between coach and quarterback is often a strong one, but you won’t find many people more united in their values and mission than Bill Snyder and Collin Klein. (Photo from K-State Sports)