Bob Lutz

October 22, 2011

Bob Lutz: K-State's Collin Klein driven by faith

We try to figure out how this Kansas State football team, with so few expectations going into the 2011 season, can be unbeaten six games in.

We try to figure out how this Kansas State football team, with so few expectations going into the 2011 season, can be unbeaten six games in.

Yes, Bill Snyder is the coach. And, yes, that counts for a lot. But Snyder alone isn't enough to explain this overachieving team, is he? There must be something else, someone else helping with the controls behind the curtain.

Meet Collin Klein, K-State's junior quarterback. His passing statistics might look pedestrian, but Klein helps give the Wildcats an "It" factor. He's got it, folks.

Klein is K-State's version of Tim Tebow, in purple and white. He plays the same position as Tebow, he's about the same size as Tebow. And he expresses himself in spiritual tones, never hiding his belief in God nor the bounties of that belief.

"Just the thought of being mentioned in the same sentence with Tim Tebow is an honor,'' Klein said. "I'm unworthy of all that. But without speaking for him, I think the most important similarity between us is that we honor God for all that He has given us.''

Klein's faith is as much a part of him as his right arm.

He is a leader of men at a young age, someone his teammates rally around and listen to. If you think there's anything fake about Klein, then you're too cynical for your own good.

"Collin is extremely real,'' said John Poovey, Klein's high school coach at Loveland (Colo.) High. "He's real, period. Just a great person and a great leader.''

Poovey went on to call Klein "great" in a few other walks of life, but let's not be redundant here.

Just as Tebow is held in high regard as a person first, then an athlete, so is Klein, who is always thoughtful and polite with fans and the media and is tenacious as a football player.

"Christians can be tough,'' he said.

When K-State needs a yard or two, it's usually Klein who puts his head down. He has rushed for 10 touchdowns and 578 yards.

As K-State's No. 1 player spokesman, Klein praises his teammates after every game. He prefers talking about them and his coaches over himself, but accepts praise with humility and appreciation.

He's a dignified college athlete, the kind we need more of. And he impresses not only Snyder and the other K-State coaches and players, but everybody who walks the campus.

"He's an incredible young man and I don't say that just because I'm his dad,'' said Doug Klein, Collin's father and a real-estate manager in Loveland. "I believe it and I know him incredibly well.''

Doug Klein and his wife, Kelly, wanted their two sons (brother Kyle is a freshman defensive end at K-State) to be driven by faith.

"That's where it all starts,'' Doug said. "That's been the main part of their upbringing. And there was never a time when Collin struggled with it. Of course, we all have good times and bad times. But we're all saved by grace and if we don't get that, we have missed the entire message.''

Doug Klein's football career was cut short by a high school back injury during his senior year. He did go on to coach college football and is a former graduate assistant at Indiana. He also worked for Poovey at Loveland High for a while.

Football is big in the Klein family. But nothing is bigger than faith.

"I was raised with, to put it in the best words, a desire for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,'' Collin Klein said. "That was almost the most important thing for me.''

Detractors are sure to shout any time an athlete brings his religion into the discussion. It's happened with Tebow. Klein realizes it could happen with him.

"There are always going to be people who say negative things about you,'' he said. "Or the team. It's about what you choose to listen to and focus on. Coach Snyder does a great job of keeping us focused, keeping us on track.''

K-State is 6-0 and ranked 12th. But the Wildcats have won five of their six games by an average of 4.5 points, which is where Klein most comes into play. He has quickly gained the reputation as a quarterback who finds a way to win close games.

His ability to run, of course, has been provided K-State's offense with one of its main weapons. But it's his ability to lead that is unnatural. He has a way rarely seen in such a young person.

In that way, he's Tebow.

"I see the comparison,'' said Poovey, whose Loveland program has produced six NFL players during his 40 seasons as coach. "Collin's not gotten near the attention of Tebow, of course. But they're always been players who have come through, found ways and continued to move on. Collin is a tremendous competitor.''

One story, Poovey said, stands out from all the rest.

Klein was a sophomore in high school, a backup varsity quarterback who rarely got on the field. Loveland was playing a big game against its crosstown rival, Thompson Valley. Loveland's starting quarterback got knocked out of the game in the first quarter, Poovey said, and he went to Klein.

The team was in disarray, panicked by the injury and doubting what Klein could bring.

"He's out there in this big environment that is just crazy,'' Poovey said. "All the momentum has shifted.''

By the early part of the third quarter, Thompson Valley had a 21-7 lead. Then Loveland started to come back.

"All of a sudden, Collin looks like Peyton Manning out there,'' Poovey said. "He's getting kids lined up right, walking up and down the line of scrimmage getting people set. Yelling commands at them. Our starting quarterback didn't even do those things.''

What looked like a game-winning touchdown late was instead an incompletion after, Poovey said, his receiver was "tackled" in the end zone before the ball arrived. Loveland had to settle for a game-tying field goal and eventually lost in overtime.

But that's the night Poovey discovered what a special player, and person, Klein was.

Against this backdrop, though, are all the people who profess to be something they're not. So many of the people we build up eventually let us down.

Klein is aware of the hypocrisy that exists. But what's he going to do about it? Change?

"Trust and respect are things that can be very fleeting,'' he said. "Those are things that take a long time to build and a very short time to lose. It's something I take very seriously and I would do anything for my teammates.''

He means it, he's not just saying it. It's difficult for most of us to wrap our heads around just how sincere Klein is. He wasn't forced into a leadership role with K-State because he's the quarterback. He naturally fit into this role because he was meant to lead. It's what he does. It's who he is.

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