NEW YORK — What makes Collin Klein great isn’t always what he does on the football field.
It’s easy to get caught up in all his touchdowns, often bouncing off defenders like a pinball on his way to the end zone time after time the last two seasons.
Doing that isn’t easy. But it’s not what defines the Kansas State quarterback on the eve of the Heisman Trophy presentation here in New York.
What makes Klein so special is the man he is off the field. He embodies the deeper meaning of the Heisman Trophy.
Sure, Klein has the numbers worthy of past Heisman winners. One doesn’t make it to the Big Apple without them. But Klein is more than that. He’s the kind of player every coach wants to have on their team and the kind of player that comes along perhaps only once in a lifetime.
Many great players have been up for the Heisman, and while K-State has only had two make it here, many more were obviously important to the Wildcats’ success over the years.
In no way would I attempt to devalue other great players who have worn the purple and white. You know their names and you know what they’ve done and how many wins they were apart of at K-State. They’re all great in their own ways.
But what Klein has meant to K-State the past two years is something different, something so rare and at time when the Wildcats needed it most.
Coach Bill Snyder said he returned to the sidelines to “calm the waters” four years ago. And there’s no doubt he’s done that, bringing the Wildcats from the dumps of the Big 12 to the top of the conference.
Helping make that possible was the emergence of an under-the-radar quarterback from Loveland, Colo., who was actually recruited to K-State by former coach Ron Prince, but yet seemed like he was born to play for Snyder.
Though it took him a while to rise to the top, Klein did it and became the player the Wildcats needed to put them over the top. The bond between coach and player has perhaps never been stronger at K-State. Klein and Snyder go together like peas and carrots, grandpas and leisure suits and meat and potatoes. They’re the perfect fit for each other. And Klein was the perfect player for a K-State program trying to get back to the top.
Sure, nobody probably envisioned a Heisman Trophy in Klein’s future when he arrived on campus five years ago. After all, the high school quarterback was turned into a receiver before he got another shot at QB three years ago.
But that’s the point. Klein had to run the race, do the impossible and fight his way back to a position he always believed he could play at this level. Many would have failed trying, given up on the dream and settled.
Not Klein. Instead he found ways to rise above the adversity, put his faith in the values and belief system that he lives his life by each and every day and became not only the QB he knew he could be, but the best teammate and leader one could find.
As much as K-State needed Bill Snyder, the program also needed a guy like Klein to help restore hope in winning again, doing things the right way, the Snyder way, and now the Klein way. That’s his legacy.
Snyder took over a K-State program that lacked discipline and commitment to doing things right, on and off the field.
He needed someone like Klein to buy in, needed someone like Klein to believe and needed someone like Klein to lead the way for a program lost.
Klein has been the shining example of that, the ambassador of Snyder’s 16 Goals for Success and the perfect student-athlete to demonstrate that anything is possible if you just buy in and believe — truly believe in getting better everyday.
That’s what sets Klein apart from other K-State greats to come through Manhattan.
No K-State program has needed a player more than it needed Klein the past two years. It goes beyond wins and losses and especially the Heisman Trophy, even as great as it is.
Sure, a lot of it was timing. Klein signed with K-State at the right time and Snyder returned to coaching at the right time. Both had to happen for any of this to be possible, especially at a time when nothing was going right for the football program. K-State wasn’t winning anymore, couldn’t beat its rivals and attendance was dwindling. The Wildcats were seemingly done.
Much had to change for there to be another turnaround in Manhattan, and that started with Snyder and then was carried through by Klein.
Klein gets it too. He understands there is more to his story than just touchdowns and beating Texas every single year. He knows there is more than winning 21 games the past two years and he knows there’s more than winning the Big 12.
Everything is a step for Klein. Just as Saturday’s Heisman Trophy presentation is a step toward something greater. For Klein, being honored in New York isn’t about winning the Heisman. It’s another opportunity to touch someone’s life, an opportunity to pay tribute to those who have helped get him to where he is today. The list is long.
He’ll be the first to tell you he didn’t get to Times Square on his own. And if he wins the Heisman over the heavily-favored Johnny Maziel, Klein will be the first to tell you there is more work to be done and this is just another step in the journey. But he won’t let it, nor would he want the Heisman Trophy to define him.
Why would he? After all, Goal No. 12 is no self-limitations. And like everything he says, he believes it and lives it.
He made a believer out of me and that’s why he got my first-place vote to win the Heisman.
You can e-mail Joshua Kinder at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Joshua_Kinder.