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August 30, 2012He scoffs at the notion that he could put up 2,500 passing yards. And, yes, it takes a lot to cause Kansas State senior quarterback Collin Klein, one of the most dangerous playmakers in college football, and one of the most polite and well-spoken youngsters ever to touch a Bill Snyder playbook, to flash a set of piercing eyes, as if told that Christmas has been cancelled.
Throughout the summer, and coming off his first season as a full-time starting quarterback, Klein has been on a mission. He'll tell you his mission is to be the best Collin Klein that he can be for a team led by a legendary head coach, loaded with 14 returning starters on offense and defense, and which enters Saturday's season opener ranked at No. 22 when the Wildcats face Missouri State at a sold out Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
But for now, Klein sits on a stool in a ballroom at the Westin-Galleria in Dallas. Reporters surround him. It's late July. Six months before, Klein, bruised and battered, capped a breakout campaign with 27 rushing touchdowns. No quarterback in Football Bowl Subdivision history had ever rushed for more in a single season.
It was his first season as a starter. Two years before he played at wide receiver. Nobody expected this.
As endearing as the 6-foot-5, 226-pound signal-caller was off the field, better believe he was as fierce on it. Both elbows bloodied, scratches covering tops of both hands, he took what the defense gave him. And then some. He threw for 1,918 yards and tossed 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. He rushed for a K-State quarterback record 1,141 yards and his 317 carries were third most in the nation.
Texas head coach Mack Brown called Klein "one of the best stories in college football that nobody is talking about."
Following a 52-45 loss at No. 3 Oklahoma State in which Klein and the 21-point underdog Wildcats crept within five yards of a possible victory over their highest-ranked opponent on the road in K-State history, ABC commentator Kirk Herbstreit said, "Collin Klein, I may have a new favorite player in college football. The kid left everything on the field."
There were no Energizer batteries. Only big-time heart. And during all of this, each and every week, following games when Klein's shoulders wouldn't allow him to shake hands, he repeated one thing: "I just want to do whatever I can to help my team win."
However, the big question shadowing Klein throughout the offseason prior to his senior year has been this: How well can he really throw the football?
For as much as Klein rushed the football for the 10-3 Wildcats, does he carry the capacity to become more productive in the passing game, and throw for, say, 2,500 yards on a team that a year ago ranked last in the department in the Big 12 Conference?
"You said 2,500 yards passing?" Klein replied. "Hmm."
Then he shoots the look, casts the glare. Wide eyes narrow, accompanied by a furrowed brow.
So could 2,500 yards be a modest estimate?
"That's a very astute observation," Klein quipped. "I don't want us to even have a shred of anything in our minds of what we can accomplish. Generally, a lot of times, you sell yourself short doing that."
As he demonstrated by bulldozing through Texas A&M on a one-yard scoring run in the fourth overtime of a 53-50 victory to conclude his five-touchdown performance and the longest game in Big 12 history, one thing remains certain: Klein rarely falls short.
Collin Klein has goals. He won't tell them to you. And his K-State teammates will only drop hints. For as light hearted and warm as Klein appears when discussing many of his passions -- his new wife, his faith, his many outstanding relationships with those around him -- the only offensive player to be named a team co-captain three straight years in the 117-year history of K-State football remains largely mum on the topic of his offseason travels that have helped him to this particular spot in his journey.
"I've taken advantage of some opportunities," he says. "We'll see if it pays off."
After earning honorable mention recognition by Sports Illustrated and first-team All-Big 12 honors as an all-purpose player by The Associated Press last season, Klein enters 2012 regarded as one of the top quarterbacks in the Big 12. He's rated as the No. 3 player in college football by The Sporting News and during the summer was named to the Maxwell, O'Brien, Unitas and Manning Award watch lists. Still, the Heisman Trophy hopeful refuses to offer any specific goals.
One jaunt that he will discuss is the four-day Manning Passing Academy at Nicholls State in Thibodaux, La., in July. Klein joined 40 other FBS quarterbacks and helped serve as camp counselor for 1,200 high school quarterbacks. More than 100 coaches were also on hand for the event.
At night, Peyton and Eli Manning turned the football field into a private classroom for the college quarterbacks.
"It was a great experience just being around that many other quarterbacks and that many other coaches from around the country, and obviously the Manning family," Klein says. "We'll see. Just being around it and having a different experience was beneficial."
Of the 40 fellow FBS quarterbacks at the event, few shared Klein's individual exploits in 2011.
Since 1981, the feat of throwing for 1,000 yards and rushing for 1,000 yards in a single season has been accomplished 42 times by quarterbacks at FBS schools. The list included Klein, Michigan's Denard Robinson and Northern Illinois' Chandler Harnish in 2011.
Last season, Robinson also became just the eighth quarterback in FBS history to both pass and rush for at least 1,000 yards twice in a career.
It's one of many opportunities available to Klein this season.
K-State senior wide receiver Chris Harper admits that his quarterback aspires to exceed 2,500 passing yards in 2012, but Harper won't disclose an exact number.
Might Klein throw for 20 touchdowns as well?
"Obviously, if he has more than 2,500 and only 20 touchdowns," Harper suggests, "something's gone wrong."
Truth is, Klein might not have to rush for 1,000 yards in the fall, not with junior running back John Hubert, a 5-foot-7, 191-pounder whose 970 rushing yards ranks as the second most among returning running backs in the league. Senior Angelo Pease was injured a majority of last season and is expected to make noise in this campaign as well.
Nevertheless, Klein enters this season on the cusp of something special.
He needs 1,917 passing yards and just 435 rushing yards to become only the sixth player in Big 12 history to gain 4,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards in a career, following in the footsteps of the dynamic Ell Roberson, the first in K-State history to eclipse the 1,000-1,000 mark in a season, and who finished with 5,099 passing yards and 2,818 rushing yards in his career.
Take it a step further, take a big-picture perspective, and it reveals that K-State looks to join West Virginia as the only FBS programs in history to have two different quarterbacks record 4,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards in a career. Major Harris (1987-89) and Patrick White (2005-08) did so for the Mountaineers.
"It probably says something about the system," Snyder said of the potential feat. "It tells you that you have two pretty good quarterbacks."
In the Big 12, only Roberson, Eric Crouch (1998-01), Vince Young (2003-05), Brad Smith (2002-05) and Robert Griffin III (2008-11) reached 4,000 and 2,000 in a career.
"Amazing players," Klein said. "They had a lot of success with their respective teams and really made an impact, no doubt."
Given Snyder's track record for improving his quarterback's production between their junior and senior seasons, odds are that Klein will make an even more significant impact in 2012. Klein joins Chad May, Michael Bishop, Jonathan Beasley and Roberson as the only quarterbacks under Snyder since 1993 to start a clear majority of games both as a junior and senior.
Here's the amazing thing that jumps out. While experts in the preseason pondered Klein's 57.3-percent completion percentage as a junior, wondering if Klein can improve upon his accuracy in the pocket, Klein had a higher completion rate than May (.527), Roberson (.520), Beasley (.443) and Bishop (.432) in their junior campaigns.
Among the aforementioned group, Bishop experienced the biggest rate of growth of any during his senior season. His completion percentage skyrocketed from 43 percent to 55 while he threw for nearly 1,200 more yards and 10 more touchdowns and tossed four fewer interceptions. Bishop, the first quarterback in Big 12 history to throw for 1,500 yards and rush for 500 yards in back-to-back seasons, led the nation with a 159.6 pass efficiency rating and averaged a nation-leading 299.3 total yards per game en route to the 1998 Davey O'Brien Award and as runner-up to the Heisman Trophy.
"Knowing Coach Snyder and his staff and how they break down every film and transfer it to opponents for the season, I definitely think going into the season teams are going to prepare for that quarterback draw, so he's got to beat them with his arm, which is going to open the running game for him," Bishop said. "During the summer and them working on film, I know 100 percent they're working on passing.
"With the hard work Collin is putting in, the sky's the limit. He may throw for 2,500 yards and rush for 1,000. I definitely think it's possible. You have to be able to see the reads, let the ball go, and trust where you're throwing it. With the time they're putting in with him, there's going to be a big increase."
Harper led K-State with 40 catches for 547 yards and five touchdowns last season. The 6-foot-1, 234-pounder, who teamed with Klein for many spectacular plays in 2011, beat-up himself during the ensuing weeks after he suffered key drops in a 29-16 loss to sixth-ranked Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. Harper now wears a Cotton Bowl t-shirt during practice, as a reminder, and reports from fall camp indicate he's poised to make a run at reaching 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career.
"Chris is doing an awesome job," Klein said. "Just the comfort level of just another year has set in. He's really applied himself toward mastering the trade and just the little nuances, which both of us have done. We're directly correlated. Putting those things together, we'll be able to do some work."
Harper smirks at mention of Klein's completion percentage.
"We dropped a lot of passes," he said. "We have a big impact on it as much as he does. He's going for 70 percent or higher this year. He's the type of guy where if it isn't 100 percent, it isn't good enough. I don't know if he knows it, but I know the average increase of those (previous K-State quarterbacks) between their junior and senior seasons is about 1,000 yards. I like to hear that as a receiver. Collin's going for more.
"His goals are high."
Bill Snyder embarks on his 21st season as head coach at K-State. He's never experienced anything like he did during the second half of the Wildcats' 21-19 win at Marshall in Huntington, W. Va., on Sept. 12, 2005. The circuit board behind the K-State sideline lost power in the second half, which wouldn't normally be important except that the 12 headsets between the sideline and coaches' box are essentially the lifeline for the Wildcats' offense and defense.
A scowling Snyder paced the sideline amid what was becoming a disaster. As electricity continued to build up among the record crowd of 36,914 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, Snyder nearly blew a fuse.
Snyder was reminded of that particular scenario during his news conference on Tuesday.
The hypothetical posed to him was whether, if given a similar circumstance, he and offensive coordinator Del Miller would feel comfortable leaving Klein alone, solely calling the shots on the field, play by play, for his offense.
"Well, we would, I would, Coach Miller would, and Collin would," Snyder replied. "That's the most important thing. It doesn't matter how I feel if he feels comfortable with it. We've had him in those positions before leading up to this season, in the spring, and summer, and in practice time we've had up to this point in time.
"He's handled it very, very well."
Senior tight end Travis Tannahill has noticed the growth in Klein's game.
"Before, he was kind of looking over to the sidelines and the coaches from up top would check the plays," Tannahill said. "This year, he has the ability to check into even more plays. He has more tools to go to. His arm definitely has a little bit more velocity this year. He puts the ball in the right spot at the right time."
All-American candidate and senior middle linebacker Arthur Brown faced Robert Griffin III and Brandon Weeden last season and will face Oklahoma's Landry Jones again in the Big 12 opener Sept. 22 in Norman.
Asked if he would place Klein in the same category with that signal-calling crew, Brown replied, "No doubt."
"When you talk about a prime quarterback, a guy who can provide the kind of leadership and support for his team, Collin definitely fits that mold," Brown said. "Collin's a guy that possesses a lot of athletic ability. We get to see him put it to use. It's definitely amazing to see."
Miller, who enters his 16th season overall at K-State, calls Klein "without question the toughest quarterback that I've ever coached and probably the toughest player I've ever coached."
He said that Klein's brief tutelage under the Mannings coupled with his countless hours in the film room and on the field in drill work "helped him tremendously, especially in small areas."
"I truly believe that Collin has the capacity to do anything he sets his mind to," Miller said. "He's a talented young man, has such a tremendous work ethic and he's so intelligent that whatever Collin decides to do, and whatever we as coaches decide to do with him, he can get it done.
"Collin understands that this is his football team. He also understands that his success is going to depend upon the people around him. He's pushing the rest of the guys."
Mention Klein and Snyder's tone takes on a brand of fondness reminiscent of the days when he saw the excitable Bishop light-up scoreboards. Bishop followed an 11-1 campaign in 1997 by guiding the Wildcats to their first undefeated regular season in history before they fell one overtime short of the 1998 national title game.
Just as Bishop took a major leap behind a veteran-laden supporting cast, such could be the case for Klein, who last season became just the fourth quarterback at a BCS automatic-qualifying school in the BCS era to record 20 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns in a single season. The others to accomplish the feat -- Eric Crouch (2000), Tim Tebow (2007) and Cam Newton (2010) -- won the Heisman in each respective season.
"Collin's growth has been across the board," Snyder said. "He's grown in every aspect of the game."
So perhaps 2,500 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards aren't out of the realm of possibility for Klein, who could conceivably join an elite group of eight FBS quarterbacks who have reached such milestone marks in a season. Young was the first to do so in 2005 and joins Robinson and Newton as the only signal-callers to do so on a team from a BCS conference.
"Honestly, Collin knows that he can do that, but I don't think he knows who's done it before," Harper said. "I don't think that's what he's looking at. He has goals he's trying to get, and it's not like, 'They've done this before, so I'm going to try to do that.' I don't think he's really focused on that. He has numbers that he wants to reach, but it's not like he wants to get them to get into an exclusive club."
Perhaps the stigma of being known as a running quarterback might eventually wane in the fall. But Klein remains fully prepared to continue tucking the ball and leading the charge on the ground when necessary as well. Truth is, he has no idea how many times he might run, or how many times he might pass, in a given game.
"Whatever we've got to do to win," he repeats. "Whatever that looks like, we'll see what happens. Whatever we've got to do to win that day, we'll do it."
With 27 rushing touchdowns, Klein needs 12 more this season to capture the FBS record for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in consecutive seasons. Northern Illinois' Stacey Robinson (19 in both 1989 and 1990) and Crouch (20 in 2000, 18 in 2001) currently share the mark with 38.
This season, Klein could join Tebow and Newton as the only quarterbacks to score 20 touchdowns both rushing and passing in a season.
It's all out there. But Klein's only concern this week is taking care of Missouri State before Miami visits the following weekend.
"I just want to become the best I can be," Klein said. "It's not necessarily trying to prove anything to anybody. That's not why I play. That's now what motivates me. Do I want to be the best throwing quarterback I can possibly be and do I want to be the best quarterback -- period -- that I can possibly be? Of course.
"I've worked on that, and will continue to work on it, and we'll see what happens."
Klein incessantly refers to the Wildcats' 16 Goals for Success at every chance. A crowd of Big 12-area reporters showered him with applause during the league's media day event in Dallas when he recited all 16 goals in order in 32 seconds.
But there's one goal in particular that escapes his lips when asked to gauge his own potential in his final season.
"Goal No. 12," Klein said, "No Self Limitations."
And that's the only individual goal he'll share publicly.