MANHATTAN — While attending church one Sunday morning earlier this summer, Collin Klein heard about an ailing woman who was living her final days in a nursing home. Her family needed help.
They could no longer stay by her side 24 hours a day, and were asking for volunteers to keep her company when they couldn’t.
Klein wanted to help, but doing so would be hard with his jam-packed schedule. Not only was Kansas State’s senior quarterback leading voluntary workouts, adjusting his throwing motion and studying video, he had a wedding to plan and a new home to move into. It was the most hectic time of his life.
So he signed up for as many shifts as he could.
“He was there keeping watch,” said Bob Flack, senior pastor at Manhattan’s Grace Baptist Church. “He made time for them.”
Those who know Klein best say he has been doing this sort of thing for years.
His father, Doug, likes to tell stories about him surprising neighbors in Loveland, Colo. when he was 10 by shoveling snow off their driveways on winter mornings so they could get to work on time. Back then he squeezed good deeds into a busy schedule that included school, basketball practice, church, and music lessons on the piano, violin and mandolin.
He is a little older now and has more responsibilities — other than a week-long trip to Cancun for his honeymoon, he hardly relaxed this summer — but his values haven’t changed. Free time means community service.
“Trying to give back with what I’ve been given is very important to me,” Klein said. “I am always trying to help anybody big or small. Anything I can do, I love to take the opportunity to do it. At some points I even feel selfish doing it, because I think it helps me out more than any amount that I’m helping them.”
This is the side of Klein his teammates wish everyone could see.
It reveals much more about him than what you find on game days — a 6-foot-5, 226-pound quarterback with the toughness and determination to get up after any hit. Klein is more than that. To truly understand him, teammates say you have to watch him in the locker room, at church or in the community.
Do that, they say, and you will see what makes him a special quarterback. His selflessness, his faith, his leadership, his work ethic … it’s all there.
“He’s the kind of guy you can look up to in every area of life,” sophomore receiver Tyler Lockett said.
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If everyone saw that side of Klein, maybe he wouldn’t face so many questions heading into his most important season.
OK, so Klein doesn’t exactly have doubters anymore. He’s on pace to become one of the best quarterbacks to ever play at K-State. Everyone agrees he is a great college football player.
Still, he is underrated considering he amassed more than 3,000 yards of offense and accounted for 40 touchdowns on a 10-win team last season.
Fifteen years ago, those numbers would have put him the middle of a Heisman Trophy race. Today, few, if any, view Klein as a NFL quarterback. And he made the Big 12’s all-conference team last year as an all-purpose player. Not quarterback.
Klein doesn’t have a beautiful throwing motion, and K-State’s offense is not designed around flashy plays. The Wildcats win by minimizing mistakes — a reason there are plenty of skeptics who don’t think he can repeat his breakthrough season.
If he doesn’t improve as a passer — he ran the ball more times than he threw it last year and had a 57-percent completion rate — some are predicting K-State to take a step back.
His teammates know this, but are confident in him all the same. They long ago nicknamed him “Honey Badger,” because much like the silly-looking animal that became famous for picking a fight with a rattlesnake on YouTube, Klein never backs down.
“He’s everything you want in a quarterback and more,” junior safety Ty Zimmerman said. “His work ethic is like no other. He shows up early, he stays late throwing balls and doing extra work in the film room. He is so tough and fearless and goes about each play like it’s his last.”
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Try to envision Klein on the basketball court, cutting through the lane for a high-flying dunk.
Seems strange, doesn’t it?
But it’s what Klein’s father always pictured him doing in college.
“He is a heck of a basketball player,” Doug Klein said.
When he first got into athletics, Collin Klein took to basketball. He began before the age of 10, and was so good that he joined a traveling team as a teenager.
Klein didn’t start football until he was old enough for high school and his father volunteered as an assistant coach.
Though he spent his days with his mother and brother in home school, he had no trouble fitting in with traditional students when he showed up for practice. He played quarterback and became a team leader right away. He was considered one of Colorado’s top prospects by the time he was a senior – in two sports.
He had scholarship offers from Northern Colorado and Colorado State for basketball, and was beginning to hear from national schools as well. But K-State liked what it saw from Klein as a quarterback.
Klein had to choose. Continue playing the sport he grew up with, or switch to football after four fun years. It was a tough decision, but college football offered something basketball never could: the chance to help more than 100 teammates.
“He just loved the game and loved being a part of a big team,” Doug Klein said. “He has always gone out of his way to help others no matter what needed to be done or what he was doing. Football was a great fit for him.”
When Klein arrived at K-State, he didn’t know what to expect. He took a redshirt his first year and spent his freshman season at receiver. He was the backup quarterback behind Carson Coffman as a sophomore. Winning the starting job and becoming a nationally known player was never a given.
But he didn’t think about any of that. Klein simply focused on becoming a leader.
“My biggest thing from Day 1 is that I truly wanted my teammates to know that I cared,” Klein said. “I care about them more than on-field performance and still do. I want to help all of my teammates as much as I possibly can.”
He is about to begin his third season as a team captain.
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In a small college town like Manhattan, there are plenty of people who pray for Klein. Everyone wants to see K-State’s quarterback stay healthy and play well on Saturdays.
But that isn’t why the members of Grace Baptist Church pray for him. They pray for him because they know him.
“He has a lot of fans here,” Flack said. “Collin is a model of Christian character.”
Klein is a regular at Grace, and heads there every weekend, often with his family. He worships in the morning and eats lunch with a church group in the afternoon. They enjoy his company.
Klein is a devout Christian who tries his best never to curse and always to live his life in God’s image. He has three main priorities: God, family and football, in that order.
He asks God to guide him in everything he does. He credits him for touchdowns and wins on the football field, and openly thanks him for bringing him together with his new wife, former K-State basketball player Shalin Spani.
Klein and Spani have known each other for years, but they only recently became more than friends. The story behind their vows is elaborate and Klein isn’t comfortable sharing it with everyone. Simple version: God let them know they were destined for each other.
When they came to that realization, things moved quickly. Klein proposed after a few dates.
“They have such a special story,” Doug Klein said. “We’re so happy for them. The two are inseparable already. It’s like they have been together their entire life.”
K-State coach Bill Snyder is supportive, too, even though he knows marriage is one more thing Klein will have to juggle.
“If you do it right, you can accomplish a lot in a 24-hour time frame, and he does it right,” Snyder said. “He cares and makes it important to him. He puts in the effort. Marriage shouldn’t change that.”
How could it if his faith guided him there? His faith has helped him on the gridiron for years.
Where others see bad calls, injuries or dropped passes as unfortunate events, he sees obstacles put in his way by God as a test. Not only does he embrace them, he welcomes them.
Despite taking so many hits that he couldn’t practice in between several games last year, he never complained. He emerged from a victory at Miami covered with blood and bruises, but also with a gigantic smile. Even though he was in pain, he knew he had passed God’s test.
“I’m not a really good football person, but I can see why he is a leader on the football field,” Flack said. “He is a young man of integrity who has the ability to bounce back from hardship and maintain his focus. That’s the way he wants to live life. He knows it will be tough, but he welcomes adversity. That’s the kind of person anyone can follow.”
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The hard part is over.
Two-a-day practices are coming to an end, marriage is beginning to feel normal and the football season is about to start.
Life isn’t so hectic for Klein anymore.
He has managed his schedule and put in the hard work. Now he needs to take all he has learned into games.
Klein says he should improve in all areas. But the biggest difference should come as a passer. He adjusted his throwing mechanics over the summer, and thinks he is ready to prove he can make consistent, pin-point throws.
He may need to in order to keep himself healthy and his offense balanced.
“That is going to be a big emphasis for us and he put a lot of time into it this summer,” offensive coordinator Dana Dimel said. “He’s just been developing his throwing game each and every year. Hopefully this is the year he can step up and show everyone the person we know he is.”
Klein’s father watched his son throughout the summer, and is confident he is close to a breakthrough. He has always thought Klein could throw for big yardage in an offense that allowed it. But K-State values its running game, and it has taken Klein a while to become comfortable as a passer.
He is much more comfortable now, though. He gained loads of confidence after throwing for 480 yards and six touchdowns in K-State’s spring game.
“He’s looking real good,” senior receiver Chris Harper said. “He is getting it out way quicker. He’s even surprising me. He’s got a lot more zip on it and he’s a lot more confident.”
It wasn’t easy for Klein to get here. It took years of hard work. The majority of that work may be over, but it won’t mean much if K-State doesn’t win big this season.
Klein understands the pressure, and realizes a lot of people are relying on him. But he isn’t worried.
His personal goals haven’t changed since he got to K-State. Above all else, he still wants to help others.
He is never too busy.
“What I really want is for the Lord to be glorified by whatever he allows me to do,” Klein said. “As long as I do that, I will be happy.
“Is winning fun? Of course, we all want to win and gain yards, but being able to glorify the Lord with all that he has given me through football is more important.”