GLENDALE, Ariz. — When you mix it all together — the ability to run, the improvement as a passer, the incredible character and leadership qualities — Collin Klein deserves to go down as the finest football player in Kansas State history.
As much as we’re excited about what Klein has accomplished with the Wildcats, it’s just as much fun to imagine what he might do in the future. And not just as a football player. This kid is going places. High and mighty places.
Meanwhile, he has helped take Kansas State places that no one knew for sure the Wildcats would reach again. He’s been dynamic and durable. He not only is one of Kansas State’s all-time leading passers, ranking eighth on the list, he’s the fifth-leading rusher in school history.
He finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting this season. He was on the cover of “Sports Illustrated.” And he’s as responsible as anyone not named Bill Snyder for the resurgence of K-State football and the expensive renovation happening on the west side of Snyder Family Stadium.
Now all Klein has to do is top off his incredible and fascinating college career with a big-time performance Thursday night against Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl. That’s it.
“What would be a fitting end?’’ Snyder responded when asked that question about Klein. “For him to be Collin, and Collin knows that. That’s the way Collin is. Collin wouldn’t attempt to be anybody that he’s not.”
As unassuming as Klein is, he’s still the face of K-State football, the most notable player in the program since 1998 Heisman runner-up Michael Bishop. He is the latest model to come from what can accurately be referred to as a quarterback factory, one that has produced Lynn Dickey, Steve Grogan and, during Snyder’s 21 seasons, Bishop, Chad May, Jonathan Beasley and Ell Roberson, among others.
Snyder loves quarterbacks with the total package, and Klein is a Rolls Royce.
In 47 games, but only 27 as the starting quarterback, Klein has amassed 2,455 rushing yards and 4,573 through the air. He has rushed for 55 touchdowns, 10 more than Darren Sproles, and passed for 29. He’s spent more time in end zones than the guys who paint logos in them.
Klein ranks third behind Josh Freeman and Roberson in career total offense.
Most poo-poo his chances of playing quarterback in the National Football League. But most can’t relate to the perseverance and determination that ooze from Klein’s pores.
The so-called experts say that if Klein has a chance at the next level, it’ll most likely be as a wide receiver or tight end or some hybrid position that nobody has thought of yet.
You know what Klein thinks?
“I know I can play quarterback,’’ he said. “That is what is really in my heart and what I want to do. Again, we’ll see what happens. But that’s where my heart is and we’ll go from there.”
There’s a notion out there that Klein doesn’t have the arm strength or the accuracy to be an NFL quarterback. Yet his career completion percentage (.617) is higher than those of Freeman (.591), May (.560), Dickey (.504), Roberson (.488), Beasley (.476) or Bishop (.510).
What Klein has done as a running quarterback, though, has overshadowed his underrated abilities as a passer.
Klein’s 588 rushing attempts are third all-time at K-State, behind only Sproles and Roberson. And he’s only 17 carries from passing Roberson.
While Klein does have is uncanny ability to dodge tacklers, considering his 6-foot-6, 230-pound frame, and he’s never shied away from contact. And that makes his durability so amazing.
It must have been killing Klein to watch from the sidelines, helmet removed from his head, as the Wildcats played the final quarter-and-a-half without him against Oklahoma State on Nov. 3 after suffering an injury, believed to be a concussion.
Just a week later, Klein was on the field battling in a 23-10 win at TCU. It was his least effective performance of the season, but he found a way to pass for one touchdown and rush for another when the Wildcats needed him most.
The undisclosed injury probably cost Klein the Heisman Trophy. He had a three-interception game in a 52-24 loss at Baylor on Nov. 17. That, combined with Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel’s performance against Alabama on Nov. 10, caused a seismic shift in the Heisman barometric pressure.
Klein was invited to New York, but was mostly a wallflower as Manziel easily won the biggest award in college football.
Kansas State fans were rightly disappointed, but not Klein. He marches on, unfazed by the attention and unimpressed by his accomplishments.
“My time at K-State has been a journey,’’ he said. “There were a lot of different things early to what it has become now. Again, I think as far as on an individual level, there’s perseverance, there’s toughness.”
During media sessions before the Fiesta Bowl, Klein has spoken often about his faith and about how blessed he has been to play quarterback at Kansas State. He does what he can to deflect attention away from himself and toward his teammates, who follow him willingly and steadfastly.
The best football player in Kansas State history started his college career as a simple redshirt, then as a wide receiver who played mostly on special teams. There has never been a silver spoon in Klein’s mouth. What he has accomplished is the result of hard work and the kind of determination reserved for a special few.
You would be foolish to count him or Kansas State out against heavily-favored Oregon.
Klein feels blessed. And so do we.