MANHATTAN — More than five years have passed since Collin Klein decided he was going to play football for Kansas State, but it doesn’t feel that way for the man who recruited him.
Ricky Rahne, a former K-State assistant who now serves as the quarterbacks coach at Vanderbilt, vividly remembers the day Klein gave him the news. It was a warm May evening in 2007, and Rahne was visiting his mother in his hometown of Morrison, Colo., when his phone rang. Klein was on the other end. The conversation was short, but it left a lasting impression.
“I remember where I was, because he was the first Division I signee I ever got,” Rahne said. “He called me up and committed to me. It was a pretty good deal. I was excited just because I knew that he was going to be something.”
Klein was a lightly-recruited player who had yet to begin his senior year of high school back then. Today, he is the starting quarterback for the No. 1 team in the BCS standings and the frontrunner to win the Heisman Trophy.
K-State football coach Bill Snyder and his current staff get all the credit for Klein’s steady improvement and impressive play as a senior, but none of them were involved in his recruitment. Snyder didn’t meet Klein until he came out of retirement. If not for former coach Ron Prince and current Vanderbilt coach James Franklin backing Rahne’s decision to offer Klein a scholarship, he might be playing somewhere else right now.
“Coach Rahne is awesome,” Klein said. “He is a great coach and did a nice job. I just knew it was right. Me and my family were at tremendous peace about being here. A lot of prayer and thought went into it before the actual scholarship offer came in, so that when it did we knew it was the place for us. They offered me in the morning and I committed that night.”
Rahne didn’t face much competition for Klein, of Loveland, Colo. Utah showed interest early, and Colorado State tried to get involved late, but that was about it.
K-State wanted him from the get-go. Rahne was given strict instructions to find a big quarterback for the Wildcats’ 2008 recruiting class, so when he heard about a 6-foot-5 multi-sport athlete from his home state, he took a look.
“I got his tape, looked him up and liked what I saw,” Rahne said. “He was a little raw in certain areas, but he was a tremendous athlete. I went and looked at him a little more and still liked what I saw.
“When I really started to know he was going to be a good player was when I watched him play basketball. He was so competitive and so athletic that I knew he was going to be good. Did I know he was going to be this good? No, that would be crazy. I wouldn’t say that.
“But the one thing that sold me on him was his family, who I was lucky enough to meet and spend a lot of time with. You knew he was going to be successful at whatever he chose to do based on the way he was raised.”
Though Klein played football and basketball for Loveland High, he was home-schooled during the day. Rahne thinks that kept other recruiters away. Heck, it almost kept him away. Klein was the first home-schooled player he targeted.
But his concerns were put to rest when he visited Loveland’s practice field and saw how Klein interacted with his teammates. They respected him. It seemed like he was around all the time.
Rahne’s biggest worry was with Klein’s unconventional throwing motion. But he said he saw past that quickly, too.
“There were a lot of people who were scared off by his mechanics,” Rahne said. “But if you watched him, the ball still went where you wanted it to go. He was a big kid and he had great speed. I saw he worked really, really hard at it and knew those were things he could work with.”
It also helped that he knew that Klein’s dual-threat talents would allow him to play multiple positions. If he didn’t pan out as a college quarterback, Rahne thought he could be “a great H-back, tight end or receiver, because of how competitive he was.” Sure enough, Klein ended up playing receiver as a redshirt freshman before taking over starting quarterback duties full time as a junior.
Though Rahne couldn’t predict him to be a future Heisman candidate, he saw a successful future for Klein.
“He was a quarterback and a guy we thought was going to have a great chance to take over for Josh Freeman once Josh left,” Rahne said. “It was pretty cool to be responsible for recruiting that type of guy and it was exciting to fill that spot.”
Rahne hasn’t been able to watch all of Klein’s games since he left K-State for Vanderbilt two years ago, but he keeps up with him as best he can. Player and coach formed a strong bond during their time together. It was tough to say goodbye, but there were never any hard feelings.
Klein helped Rahne’s wife shovel snow off her driveway in Manhattan when Rahne was away after he switched jobs. Rahne still roots for him.
“That coaching staff has fine-tuned his fundamentals and put him in positions where he can be successful,” Rahne said. “They are letting him use his talent to move the ball around the field without making him be somebody else. They are letting him be Collin, and that is probably the best thing for him.”
Klein’s success has brought some attention to Rahne. He is now known as the man who recruited a Heisman candidate.
Though that will look good on his resume, he said that’s not why he’s fond of Klein.
“I’m just glad I got to know the kid. He has worked really hard and done all the work,” Rahne said. “I’m glad I trusted my instinct that he was going to be a great player. Other than that, all the credit goes to the kid.”