IRVING, Texas — Collin Klein’s elbows have finally stopped bleeding and he’s returned to practice.
That’s a significant development for the Kansas State quarterback, who’s been essentially bleeding since the season started — highlighted by his bloody and mud-stained jersey in the Wildcats’ win at Miami back in September.
In all seriousness, the bloody arms and hands Klein suffered through most of the season was just the start of the bumps, bruises and undisclosed injuries the junior had to deal with on his way to a record-breaking season.
The Loveland, Colo., native missed nearly four straight weeks of practice at one point — while never missing a game. The time off from the weekly beatings has been good for Klein, as he’s all set for the Cotton Bowl tonight against Arkansas from Cowboys Stadium — kicking off at 7 on FOX.
“We have a great training staff that keeps me held together,” Klein said Tuesday. “And there’s no substitute for time, but I am feeling better and ready for another round.”
The 6-foot-5, 226-pound QB was limited to mental reps and spent an enormous amount of time in the training room at the football complex.
“It was a challenge at first, taking as many mental reps as I could,” said Klein, who passed for 1,745 yards and 12 touchdowns this season, while rushing for another 1,099 yards and a school-record 26 scores. “And that’s when the reps I took during the spring, summer, camp and the first part of the season really became valuable because I wasn’t able to physically do it for a while.”
One man who knew exactly what Klein was going through was his roommate and freshman center B.J. Finney.
“I don’t know if you can find anyone tougher than Collin,” he said. “The will he has to come to work through all the pain. You can’t put it into words for people to understand. You’d have to see it to believe it.”
But it could be argued that two of Klein’s better performances this season came during that stretch when one more hit seemed like too much to bear.
“The Oklahoma State game, he was so banged up that he came up to us right before the kickoff and said he wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to run the ball at all that game,” K-State co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel said.
The first-team All-Big 12 performer only passed for 233 yards and a touchdown, while rushing 29 times for another 144 yards and thee more scores in the 52-45 loss to the Cowboys.
“We went into the A&M game and said, ‘We’re going to have to not run Collin very much this game.’ Then I remember in the locker room after the game, we said, ‘Well, we only ran Collin 35 times today.’”
Again, Klein was outstanding — leading the Wildcats past the Aggies in four overtimes 53-50 — as he passed for 281 yards and one touchdown, while rushing for another 103 yards and five more TDs, four of which came in the fourth quarter or OT.
Dimel said the K-State coaching staff thought Klein would have a good season. But the way it’s broken down, with the kind of running ability Klein has shown, was something he didn’t totally expect.
“We thought as the season went along that he would progress and become a better player,” he said. “We just weren’t sure what style of offense we would have with Collin and we didn’t think he would run the ball as much as he has.
“But he showed throughout the season the toughness. The toughness was a big surprise. Normally you don’t lean on your quarterback to be one of the toughest guys on your team, but with our team, he’s become that.”
Dimel likened Klein to a fullback playing quarterback.
“He’s one of those quarterbacks — and you don’t see it very much from quarterbacks — but when they need that extra yard, a lot of times the quarterback won’t put their heads down and get it,” he said. “But he’s got a fullback mentality at the quarterback position. When he has to put his head down and get that extra yard, he’ll do it.”
In fact, Klein needs just two more rushing scores to break the Big 12 rushing TD record and the NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single season.
Finney wants that record.
“It would mean a lot to me, but I don’t know if it would mean a lot to Collin,” he said. “He’ll take whatever comes his way. He’s his own worst critic and he’ll work hard everyday. As far as the touchdown record, the offensive line will take pride in that. We want to get the touchdown record, but I don’t know if he wants to try to get it.”
But as much as running the football has been the story of Klein’s breakout season, Dimel said he thinks his prized quarterback has been underrated as a passer.
“The questions of how he throws the football are there, but again, they probably aren’t justified,” he said. “With Collin, I know he throws he the ball a lot better than what most people understand. He hasn’t had to do that, though. In certain games when we’ve had to open the offense to win it, Collin can do that — he can answer the bell.”
Arkansas safety Tramain Thomas agrees.
“When I watch him, I don’t see any flaws in him,” he said this week. “He throws the ball on time and throws it before the receiver comes out of his break. I think he’s a great quarterback, not just a runner.”
Dimel said it his hope that Klein’s game is expanded next year during his senior season, one that highlights more of his passing ability and takes some pressure off Klein to have to carry so much of the load as a rusher.
“I think he can expand his abilities to throw the football and spread the field a little bit more,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s as much him, but I think it’s just us feeling like the weapons around him will be better and improved, because most everybody is coming back offensively. We’ll give him more tools within the offense to use.
“I think it’s just a matter of opening things up more for him, taking some more chances.”
When asked if he ever envisioned a season like he’s had, in terms of the individual numbers, Klein was — as usual — humble to the end.
“I really had no idea it would look exactly like this,” he said. “I couldn’t have predicted any of it. I couldn’t have predicted this season. I’m not going to predict what happens next year.
“I’m just very fortunate to have been able to contribute and help K-State be successful.”