Why Collin Klein expects big things from K-State QB Skylar Thompson
Collin Klein is talking about the best victory of his college football career. The former Kansas State quarterback won 21 games during his final two seasons with the Wildcats, so there are plenty to choose from. But there’s no hesitation here.
He’s discussing the time K-State beat Texas 17-13 in front of 100,705 fans when he was a junior in 2011.
That may seem like a strange selection, considering that game involved so little offense, but Klein remembers it fondly because he’s still not sure how he managed to play that night.
Klein was the ultimate warrior for the Wildcats, shaking off countless injuries to carry the ball 601 times on his way to Heisman Trophy contention. He never missed a start, but he was often too hurt to practice. That was the case against the Longhorns, so he was rusty. Making matters worse, he was also sick.
He woke up with a headache and was nauseated all day. At times, his vision blurred.
“I was hurting,” Klein says now. “I don’t know if it was a bad reaction to food or medicine, but I wasn’t feeling good at all. The injuries from that year compiled … It was ugly.”
That helps explain his stat line of 87 all-purpose yards. But he delivered a pair of touchdowns. The Longhorns were ranked 23rd at the time, but Klein and the Wildcats found a way to beat them under difficult circumstances.
“Never worked harder for a win,” Klein says. “It was a culmination of not feeling well, great defense and being on the road. That night was brutal.”
Nearly eight years have passed since then, but it feels like even longer looking at Klein today.
Klein went undrafted and never got much of a shot in the NFL. He gave the CFL a try, but that didn’t work out either. His playing days are long behind him. Now he’s enjoying life as a coach. He got into the business five years ago and has been at it ever since. He’s tutored quarterbacks at his alma mater the past two seasons, and he’s doing the same thing for Chris Klieman as the lone holdover from Bill Snyder’s final staff. Klein remains a valuable member of the team, but K-State no longer needs him to carry an offense on his back.
His life and body have changed.
Klein was once the epitome of toughness. Bloody arms were his calling card. He weighed as much as 240 pounds by his senior year, and he used his 6-foot-5 frame like a battering ram every time he left the pocket. Sliding wasn’t his style. He threw for 4,724 career yards and rushed for 2,485. He led K-State to two major bowls and a No. 1 ranking.
Nothing, it seemed, could stop him. Now he looks like a distance runner.
Ask how much Klein weighs today and he bursts into laughter. So does a group of assistant coaches standing nearby. He says he is down to 205, insisting he has only lost 35 pounds since he traded in his cleats for a whistle. But his friends disagree.
“More like 45 pounds,” says offensive quality control coach Drew Liddle.
“These guys give me heck all the time about how I am wasting away,” Klein says. “It’s a running joke.”
Klein had to “scratch and claw” for every pound of muscle he gained at K-State. His diet consisted of protein shakes in the morning and peanut butter covered waffles at night.
Once he stopped playing football, that weight disappeared. He eats less now and his trips to the gym are less demanding. Strangers might not realize that he used to be one of the most physical quarterbacks in the nation.
“Things are different now, but I feel good,” Klein says. “My joints feel better and I’m not as sore on Sunday mornings as I used to be.”
He has more responsibilities now, though.
Klieman didn’t hire Klein because he used to be a good player. He kept him on staff to recruit, tutor young quarterbacks, suggest game plans and help K-State’s new assistants navigate the Manhattan landscape.
That’s a lot for a 29-year old to handle, but Klein isn’t complaining. College football coaches don’t always get to choose where they work and he says he is fortunate to live in a community that means so much to him and his family. He has head-coaching aspirations, but says he wants to stay here a “very, very long time.”
The Wildcats were glad to hold onto him. Offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham says Klein earned his salary at a recent team meeting when he shared success stories from his senior campaign, which ended with a Big 12 championship and an invitation to the Heisman presentation.
“We were in a lot of dog fights,” Klein says. “We had to scratch and claw for every win we got. That’s what made it such a special deal. It took everyone doing their part, so many guys giving everything they had. We came together in a way that made those two years what they were. I would do it again in a New York second.”
His words hit all the right buttons.
“He is a great leader,” Messingham says. “Players listen to him because he played and legitimately knows what it takes to win here.”
He’s also improving on his X’s and O’s.
“I like the way he details everything for those quarterbacks,” Klieman said. “He’s coaching them on the big picture, but then he’s pulling it down and really hitting the details, whether it’s mechanics, coverages, footwork. Him being part of the staff has made it a lot easier on all of us coaches that are new, because we can ask him (questions).”
This is a big season for Klein.
Junior quarterback Skylar Thompson is ready to take control of a new offense, and Klein will be there to help him every step of the way. Klein made a giant leap during his third year with the Wildcats, and he hopes Thompson can do the same.
Perhaps his link to K-State’s successful past will help the Wildcats win more games like the one they pulled off eight years ago at Texas in the future.