IRVING, Texas — Collin Klein always begins plays for 11th-ranked Kansas State taking snaps from center B.J. Finney.
The two are often together at the end of plays as well, with Finney either helping up the running junior quarterback after another gain or going to the end zone to help celebrate another touchdown.
“I’ve never had to pick a quarterback up that many times. It’s the way Collin is, he’s not going to be satisfied until the game’s over and he’s going to keep putting himself in there to try and win the game,” Finney said. “I’m always running after him trying to make sure he’s all right because his mom told me if he gets hurt it’s all on me.”
Klein gets banged up and bruised because of his hard-nosed style that is far from being prototypical for a quarterback. But he is more than all right after a five-week break to recover from months of pounding since the Wildcats (10-2) played their regular season finale.
“I am feeling much better. We have a great training staff that has worked very diligently with me through the course of the season, keeping me up and rolling,” Klein said, smiling. “A chance to refresh a little bit, and I’m ready for another round.”
That comes Friday night in the Cotton Bowl against No. 7 Arkansas (10-2), which has to figure out a way to try to slow down the all-purpose quarterback from the Big 12 that also featured Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.
Klein has more rushing attempts than passing attempts (293 to 251). His 26 rushing touchdowns this season are one short of the Big 12 record held by 1998 Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams and the FBS record for quarterbacks set by Navy’s Ricky Dobbs two years ago.
As impressive as those numbers is how the 6-foot-5, 226-pound Klein does it. He puts his head down, seemingly not worried about trying to avoid contact or hard hits from defenders.
“It’s really remarkable, not just his stats, but just the fact that he’s still standing and he’s healthy,” Kansas State wide receiver Chris Harper said. “He might be kind of crazy, because the hits he takes you don’t know if he’s going to get up. .... He’s been taking a pounding the whole season and he just keeps getting up and breaking records. He’s had a season that will be remembered in K-State history, probably forever.”
Last season, Klein played sparingly, mostly as an option alternative to senior Carson Coffman. Klein’s played as a receiver and on special teams as a freshman in 2009, when his only two starts were as a receiver.
Now Klein has helped get the Wildcats to the verge of an 11-win season and facing an SEC team whose only losses were to LSU and Alabama, the two teams that play for the BCS national championship next week. Klein has accounted for 38 of Kansas State’s 45 offensive touchdowns.
“Basically, we know at certain times he likes to keep the ball in his hands,” Arkansas safety Jerico Nelson said. “We know he’s a willing runner, he’s tough. ... A lot of teams they played against this year game-planned for him, and he still was still able to be productive.”
Nelson and other Arkansas defenders all stressed the same things: gap control and making sure they tackle Klein when they have the chance.
Klein’s style as a running quarterback has been compared to what Tim Tebow did at Florida and is trying to do in the NFL. But there are other similarities between the two quarterbacks, who both have a strong Christian faith and were home-schooled before going to college.
When asked about his 26 rushing TDs, and potential records he could set during the Cotton Bowl, Klein quickly credits the rest of his teammates and points out that he’s just the one with the ball in his hand and gets the reward for everyone’s hard work.
Still, it was Klein spending so much time in the training room this season with a swollen and bruised body that usually has bandages somewhere on his exposed arms and hands.
Klein has rushed for 1,099 yards on a Big 12-leading 293 attempts. He completed 145 of 251 passes for 1,745 yards with 12 TDs and five interceptions.
“My role I’ve kind of taken this year, I don’t know if I could have predicted exactly what that was going to look like before and even at the beginning of the season,” he said. “It’s kind of something that I grew into and we’ve grown into.”
One thing that comes more difficult for Klein is trying to adjust his hard-hitting style to avoid some hits.
“You can only run through so many brick walls and still be in one piece. But again, it’s whatever we need,” Klein said. “If there’s a first down we need to get or the goal line is close, all those things kind of factor into what the team needs at that time and whatever we need to do win, I’m willing to do.”