MANHATTAN (AP) — Anyone who might have wondered about Collin Klein’s toughness got a definitive answer when Kansas State played at Miami a couple weeks ago.
The quarterback had absorbed one bone-jarring hit after another, and with time ticking down as the Wildcats prepared for a final stand, the 6-foot-5 Klein breached the defensive huddle, jumping up and down, smacking guys on the shoulder pads.
His message: They would not let this game slip away.
“I’ve never seen him come over and try to motivate the defense like that,” Kansas State defensive end Jordan Voelker said. “That was great.”
Klein’s coach at Loveland High School in Colorado, John Poovey, characterized him as a kid with a great set of intangibles, but players take note of one in particular.
“He will take a hit for the team,” Voelker said. “Down in Miami, he was bleeding all over, so that shows us the toughness that he has.”
That toughness is a big reason the Wildcats are off to a 4-0 start and will approach Saturday’s game against Missouri with a No. 20 ranking, their highest since 2003.
“If he has two broken legs, he’s still going to be waving the trainers off, trying to stay on the field,” safety Tysyn Hartman said. “It’s that competitive nature that we’ve come to expect from Collin.”
Part of that competitive nature comes from his mother, Kelly Klein, who said she takes pride in her son’s determination, discipline and teamwork.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him give up on anything,” said Klein, who has another son, Kyle, on the team. “He will finish it and do it until the end. He doesn’t give up on people, he doesn’t give up on the project, he just never gives up.”
“I really admire that because sometimes I feel like I could give up,” she added. “He never does.”
Klein earned a reputation as a running quarterback last season, when he torched Texas for 127 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start. He’s still dangerous with his legs — he’s run for 423 yards this season — but he’s also showing an increasingly effective arm to keep defenses off balance.
Klein’s completed 47 of 85 passes for 481 yards and six TDs this season, including the go-ahead score to save Kansas State from an embarrassing loss to Eastern Kentucky. Wide receiver Chris Harper, who used to play quarterback and who first met Klein when the two were in high school, has seen the difference in his throwing motion over the years.
“It’s a lot smoother than what it was,” Harper said. “He’s put the time in. Even that year that he played receiver, he was putting time in every day after practice. People were catching him every single day. There wasn’t a day that went past that he wasn’t throwing.
“You’ve just seen the progress,” Harper said, “even the progress from earlier this season.”
Poovey said Klein always had great fundamentals, even though his throwing motion is the subject of snickers to this day.
Between playing for a high school team with a run-oriented philosophy and splitting time between football and basketball — he had as many college offers to take the court as he did the gridiron — Klein simply didn’t have the same number of throwing reps that most college quarterbacks do.
“The mechanics have changed a little bit,” said his father, Doug Klein. “I know his release is a little faster. His arm speed is better. I don’t know exactly what they’ve changed. I think it’s been more fine-tuning than anything, and reps.
“Collin’s a great student,” he said, “so whatever little adjustments here and there that they make, I’m sure he takes it very serious, and he works at it and will progress along that very well.”
Players have always been privy to Klein’s work ethic — he’s usually at the front of the pack during sprints — but Harper senses something else, something he hadn’t noticed until recently.
“This year it’s like he has more fire,” Harper said. “I didn’t know he had that kind of fire and that kind of passion, and he’s starting to show that a lot more.”