Collin Klein is the Heisman Trophy finalist who fits no mold.
He was lightly recruited out of high school and ultimately chose to attend Kansas State, a program that had fallen on hard times. He was turned into a wide receiver, and then went back to being a quarterback, where he sat on the bench and bided his time.
It finally came last year, when he led the Wildcats to the Cotton Bowl, his bruises and bloody elbows and gritty toughness creating something that bordered on a cult following in the heart of the Flint Hills.
There’s more to Klein, too, that stands out of the ordinary.
The guy plays the piano and the mandolin — how many college kids even know what a mandolin looks like? He’s married to the daughter of one of the greatest players in Kansas State history, but when they gather for the holidays, they prefer card games to dwelling on the pressures of big-time football.
“He’s a great story, and it’s a story that will evolve over time, as we get old,” said Kansas State wide receiver Chris Harper. “It’s a story about a guy that was humble, one of the most humble guys you’ll ever meet.”
Harper certainly knows who would get his vote for college football’s most prestigious award, and it wouldn’t be Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel or Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, though he admits that both of the other Heisman finalists are deserving of everything that’s come their way.
It would be the fifth-year senior who led a ragtag group of guys predicted to finish somewhere in the middle of the Big 12 to the second Big 12 title in school history and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl. The kid from Loveland, Colo., with the nickname “Optimus Klein.”
“In my vote, he should get it,” Harper said of the Heisman Trophy, which will be awarded Saturday night in New York. “Being a biased guy watching football, the dude — he’s done some crazy things. I don’t understand how he goes out there and has one bad game and he’s already out of it. I didn’t know it goes off of the last game you play. I thought it went off the whole season.”
Yes, therein lays the biggest knock against Klein.
Remarkably consistent all season, Klein had driven the Wildcats to the top of the BCS standings with two games left, a berth in the national championship game tantalizingly close. But he responded with a three-interception game in a loss at Baylor, and all those aspirations were dashed in just one night.
Most people thought Klein’s Heisman hopes went with them.
But with Manziel and Te’o having already finished their regular seasons, Klein took the field last Saturday night with a captive national audience, needing to lead Kansas State past Texas to win the Big 12 title. He threw for 184 yards and a touchdown and ran for another 103 yards and two scores in a 42-24 romp on senior night.
“Well, I don’t know about everybody else, but I don’t know anybody who means more to his football team than Collin Klein,” said Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. “I think he’s grown in the program over the course of time. He’s had a major impact, obviously. I think certainly the quality of play that he brings to the table, but as I’ve said so many times, the old adage, he’s a far better person than he is anything else.”
Klein has accounted for 37 touchdowns this season, including at least three in eight games, and became the first quarterback in the BCS era to run for at least 20 TDs and throw for 10 in back-to-back seasons.