MANHATTAN (AP) — After throwing an incompletion at the end of Kansas State’s wild near-upset of Oklahoma State, Collin Klein dropped to one knee on the turf.
Head bowed, one hand on the ground, the other on a knee, the junior quarterback looked frozen in devastation as his roommate and center, B.J. Finney, knelt over him, patted him on the shoulder and gently prompted him to his feet.
Finney recalled telling his quarterback that he had to forget the errant throw.
“I said, ‘That one pass doesn’t mean anything,’” Finney recounted. “We played one heck of a game. We’ve got something to hang our hat on here. You just can’t let one bad pass take everything good away from the situation. I said, ‘Let’s walk out of here with our heads held high.’”
Clearly, Klein did move on, and so did the Wildcats.
A win over Iowa State on Saturday would give Kansas State (9-2, 6-2 Big 12) its first 10-win season since the Wildcats beat Oklahoma in the 2003 Big 12 title game. It would also give the Wildcats a share of the championship, if the Sooners also beat Oklahoma State on Saturday night.
Now, consider all that in light of the team being predicted to finish eighth in the Big 12.
Klein’s rise to national prominence has been just as unexpected.
At the beginning of this season, no one knew anything about the soft-spoken Klein, who did not decide between basketball and football until his junior year of high school, and who actually played receiver at Kansas State before moving to quarterback.
These days, if you type “Collin Klein Heisman” into Google, you’ll get plenty of hits.
Surf the Internet some more and you might come across the “CKMVP” page that the Kansas State athletic department put together, or perhaps the YouTube video that compares the quarterback of the Wildcats to the shockingly vicious and resilient honey badger.
Prominently displayed on the athletic department’s website is the fact Klein ranks fourth in the country in points scored and has accounted for 69 percent of Kansas State’s offensive yardage, and a whopping 86 percent of its offensive touchdowns.
“He’s a pretty iconic figure this year, just the way he’s came up, really had to earn his spot,” said defensive end Jordan Voelker. “That first game, nobody really thought that he deserved the spot, and we’d had some issues at quarterback, but he’s really proved himself and gotten better every game.”
Coach Bill Snyder sees Klein as proof that the strategy of constant improvement is a sound one.
A proven workhorse who often takes hits as he stays in the pocket — and one who rarely slides at the end of runs — Klein has battled injuries throughout the season, often going long periods without even participating in practice just so that he’s ready to play come Saturday.
From a young age, though, Klein’s been a fighter.
“His determination has always been in place,” said his mother, Kelly Klein. “If he had a long bike ride and he was tired, we’d say, ‘Pedal through the pain,’ and that was his motto. Just pedal through the pain. Make sure you get it done. Never give up.”
That determination allowed Klein to lead Kansas State to a gritty, ugly 17-10 victory at Texas.
What people outside the team did not realize until after that game was that trainers had deemed the injuries Klein accrued from the hits he absorbs each week serious enough to warrant some extra time off, so the quarterback spent more time in the training room than he did on the practice field.
While Voelker said he hasn’t noticed the injuries hamper Klein’s performance, Finney said the quarterback has not been 100 percent since before the game against Oklahoma.
“He took some hard hits,” Finney said. “He got bruised pretty bad. After that he never really had a chance to let those bruises heal, so it just kept making the bruises worse.”
“I just remember looking at his arm after the Oklahoma State game,” Finney added. “One solid bruise all the way down, and I was like, ‘Ouch.’”
While it sometimes looks like Klein gets up more and more slowly after each hit, off the field he does not appear phased by the beating he has taken — nor by the attention he’s received from local and national media, some of whom are championing him for college football’s highest honors.
When asked whether his success has surprised him, Klein cites one of Snyder’s infamous 16 goals.
“Rule No. 12 — no self-limitations,” Klein said, smiling. “At that point you’re never satisfied, but at the same time you’re never disappointed if the work is done correctly and you put forth 100 percent effort to do the very best you can.
“I’m still growing, I’m still working toward that,” Klein added. “Like I said, definitely not satisfied at all, but I am enjoying the process.”