MANHATTAN — The proclamation from coach Bill Snyder following No. 22 Kansas State’s annual spring game was hardly surprising, even though what it represented was downright historic.
Senior quarterback Collin Klein would be one of four captains for the 2012 season.
Klein ran for 27 touchdowns last season to break a school record set in 1969, and threw for 13 more while leading the Wildcats to a 10-3 record and a berth in the Cotton Bowl. He spent most of the season bloodied and battered, often missing every practice between games, yet never once complaining as he put together one of the finest seasons in school history.
So everybody expected Klein to be a captain. But the fact that he was made a captain for the third straight year, something that had never before happened for an offensive player in school history, spoke volumes about how he’s viewed inside and outside the program.
“I think the sky’s the limit for anybody. It’s just what you do with what you’ve got,” Snyder said. “He does a great deal with what he has.”
More than anything, that’s why Snyder has such an appreciation for him.
He doesn’t have the greatest throwing motion — wide receiver Chris Harper called it “jinky,” which he described as “not what everybody typically thinks is correct.” And he certainly prefers to scramble out of the pocket than settle back and search down field.
But even though Klein is just about the furthest thing from the prototypical, 21st-century quarterback, he somehow makes it work in Snyder’s modern adaption of the veer offense.
Klein had the third-most rushing attempts last season in major college football, the 317 carries trailing only Bobby Rainey of Western Kentucky and Robbie Rouse of Fresno State — both of them running backs, guys who are supposed to be toting the ball. The quarterback with the next-most attempts was Tevin Washington of Georgia Tech, and he was 75 carries shy.
It’s no wonder Klein took such a beating last season he often joked he was becoming best friends with the Kansas State training staff.
Perhaps that’s the biggest reason why Klein spent so much of his offseason working with Harper and the rest of his veteran wide receivers. They toiled in the blistering, 100-degree heat of the Flint Hills, running endless routes and refining Klein’s mechanics to the point where maybe — just maybe — he’ll be able to air it out a bit more this season.
“The growth has been across the board, and it hasn’t just been focused in one area,” Snyder said. “He’s grown in regards to his game management. He’s grown in regards to his understanding of our offense and defensive football. He’s grown in terms of leadership, in terms of his confidence level, in just his overall presence on the field, as well as the physical things, the running game and passing game as well. I’ve seen some movement, positive movement, in all those areas.”
The Wildcats started to move away from a one-dimensional, run-first offense centered around their quarterback late last year, when teams began to stack the line to prevent the 6-foot-5, 226-pound wrecking ball from running right at them.
Klein averaged 124 yards passing over the first eight games, but nearly 184 yards in the final four games against Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Texas and Iowa State.
The only loss was a 52-45 heartbreaker to the then-No. 3 Cowboys on the road.
The progress continued throughout the spring, and with Klein calling many of his own plays, he wound up going 47 of 56 for 480 yards and six TDs against the No. 2 defense in the spring game.
“The point man is Collin,” said Harper, the Wildcats’ leading receiver a year ago. “His release point is better. His mechanics are better. It’s jinky, but he gets the ball there.”
In other words, he gets the job done.
That’s all that really matters to the Wildcats.
Klein, who was first-team All-Big 12 as an all-purpose player last season, is already on the watch list for Manning, Maxwell, O’Brien and Unitas awards — just about all the hardware that is handed out to a quarterback each season.
But he’s the first to say that personal accolades don’t mean much to him. He’d rather talk about the success of the Wildcats last season, and what it would mean to duplicate such success this season, a task that begins Saturday against Missouri State.
“A new identity needs to be carved out,” Klein said. “The 2011 team was amazing, it was a great run, but it was last year. It was a special group of guys, and we have a special yet different group of guys this year. It’s time to do more great things.”