Klein prepares for final home game

Three days after they spent their first Thanksgiving together as husband and wife, Collin and Shalin Klein stood inside the club level at Arrowhead Stadium. It was their first football game together. And for the first time since this all began, way back in August and just a couple weeks after they said "I do," Shalin, if for only an afternoon, could see a calmness fall over her husband's face.
At the moment, he stood in his gray Big 12 Conference warmups with a red-and-gold blanket tucked underneath his left arm, flanked on either side by cheesing teenage boys. All three grinned ear-to-ear for a photo.
While Peyton Manning operated the Denver Broncos offense against the Kansas City Chiefs defense, Klein was in the final day of his longest hiatus from the football field during his senior season since the summer.
At one point, Shalin leaned to her husband and asked, "When's the last time you actually sat in a stadium and watched a game?"
She needed no response.
"It was just really good to be away from life, and all the craziness going on, and to not have to really worry about anything," Shalin recalled earlier this week. "It's what we all needed, for sure."
Kansas State wrapped up its final practice last Wednesday. The Kleins loaded up and made it to Shalin's parents' home by 7 p.m. They did the stuff that families do on Thanksgiving. They ate. They laughed until they cried. They sat in front of the TV and watched football games. They shopped. They played card games.
In one chair sat Gary Spani. He's the Chiefs' all-time leader in tackles, the College Football Hall of Famer, the first consensus All-American in K-State history, and Shalin's father.
In another chair sat Collin Klein, the one-time wide receiver, the only three-time offensive team co-captain in K-State history, and the only quarterback from a major conference in Football Bowl Subdivision history with 10 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing touchdowns in multiple seasons.
They were two men, trapped in a house full of women, just playing cards.
"We played a lot of Pitch," Collin said. "They had to teach me the game. It was fun."
Shalin said, "Our family is super competitive with anything."
Collin said, "We had some good games."
Shalin giggles while recounting the past week. She knew what she was in for as the wife of the starting quarterback. A former women's basketball player at K-State, she knew the trials of being a student-athlete albeit on a smaller scale. She knew there would be long days, late nights, no weekends, little time and lots of attention.
She also knew to prepare for unexpected twists and turns along the way, which she describes as "a roller-coaster just because you don't really know what the next turn is going to be, the ride of football, the ride of that senior year, going 80 miles-per-hour and not knowing what it'll look like, what it'll feel like, all of that."
During Thanksgiving break, while being afforded their most time together since this all began, Shalin saw something different.
"I saw him, for the first time in a couple months," she said, "not worry about anything."
After the Broncos-Chiefs game, they returned to Manhattan, where Collin had a Sunday evening team meeting at the Vanier Football Complex.
Then Mr. and Mrs. Klein got ready for bed.
"I was laying there," Shalin recalled, "and I said, 'I can't believe this weekend is your last game in Manhattan.'
"He said, 'Me either.'"
It's funny how things can run full circle. Little did Collin Klein know that he would attend an NFL game in November (it was a surprise), much less watch Peyton Manning, whom he met as Klein was one of 40 FBS quarterbacks invited to the four-day Manning Passing Academy at Nicholls State in Thibodaux, La., in June.
Similarly, little could Klein predict the path to come during the second offensive series against cross-town rival Thompson Valley High School back in 2005. Klein, a sophomore backup quarterback for Loveland (Colo.) High School, found himself in the huddle surrounded by hulking, senior offensive linemen after the Indians' senior quarterback suffered a concussion.
In the packed Ray Patterson Field, located in the Loveland community about 50 miles north of Denver, all eyes were on Klein to see what he'd do next.
"What he did was go into a varsity game for the first time in his life and without practicing much with the varsity team," Loveland head coach John Poovey said. "After we got down 21-3, he led us back. He had a throw into the end zone that should've been pass interference -- the receiver got tackled before the ball got there -- for the winning touchdown. But he led us back.
"He looked like Peyton Manning. It was a crazy environment. He was getting guys lined up correctly. It was chaotic at times, but he's the one that stepped up and kept things under control. He looked like a seasoned veteran."
Similarly, little could Mack Brown predict how paths would cross one November evening at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan in 2010. That's when Bill Snyder opted to start a sophomore named Collin Klein at quarterback in place of the injured Wildcats starter Carson Coffman.
"He gained about 200 yards rushing when I'd never heard his name before as a backup quarterback the first time I saw him," Brown said earlier this week. "It was hard to improve on that."
Klein completed 2 of 4 passes for nine yards. But it was Klein's 127 rushing yards and two touchdowns that helped the Wildcats to a 39-14 win over the Longhorns on the Wildcats' Senior Night, lifting the program to bowl eligibility for the first time in half a decade.
When No. 7 K-State, 10-1 overall and 7-1 in the Big 12, meets No. 23 Texas, 8-3 and 5-3, in Saturday's 7 p.m. kickoff at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Klein will look to help deliver at least a share of the Big 12 championship to Manhattan for the first time in nine years while the Wildcats also seek to clinch the league's automatic BCS bowl berth and tie the school record for total wins in a season.
To do so, Klein must slay the Longhorns for a third straight time. No K-State quarterback has ever done so against Texas.
"It is kind of ironic that the first and last game I will have played (as a starting quarterback) here will be against the same team," Klein said. "That's kind of ironic."
But wow, has the landscape changed since that night back in 2010 when Klein surprised Brown and the Longhorns.
"He's one of the best players for his team that I've ever seen because he makes a complete difference for those guys," Brown said. "He can run it, he can throw it, and he's as tough as any young man I've ever seen play in college football.
"I really admire him."
They thought they were attending a general morning assembly. However, high-pitched screams from 488 students at Bergman Elementary School in Manhattan announced the arrival of a surprise 6-foot-5, 226-pound guest inside the gymnasium Nov. 13.
Collin Klein took a microphone and pulled up a chair. Klein had been called upon to address the students. So, after the screams died down, he told the children sitting cross-legged on the floor about how the school's "Six Pillars" of character -- citizenship, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and trustworthiness -- related to the famed Wildcats' 16 Goals for Success, which the K-State football team abides by under head coach Bill Snyder.
Moments later, a commotion interrupted Klein's presentation. He looked up to see sophomore center B.J. Finney and backup Drew Liddle walking into the gym alongside a gentleman holding the black base of a dark oak trophy with a silver plaque inscribed with Klein's name.
Of 117 candidates in the FBS, Klein was chosen as one of 22 members of the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team for his commitment to serving the community. He's a part of the local reading program, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Christmas food program, and serves as a Special Olympics volunteer.
"The good hands of the community shows the real purpose of college football isn't just about the sports but how we interact to make the community better," Allstate agent Brian Green said. "Collin has stood out as he's worked above and beyond to make the Manhattan community a better place to be during his four years at K-State.
"Sometimes we don't really take a minute to recognize the people that do the right thing. We want you students to do the same thing."
Amid camera flashes, a wide-eyed Klein accepted the trophy and, per norm, shifted focus to everyone else in the room.
"First of all, I want to thank Allstate and every single person in here," he said. "I'm so glad some of my teammates are here with me to see how amazing you guys are and your passion for us and support for us. This has made my day to see the joy on your faces and the good work you guys are doing. So thank you. It's not about us, so thank you guys so much."
The principal asked Klein to the crowd, "So, does it pay to do the right thing?"
Klein nodded, and raised his microphone. "It does."
So often these days, the story isn't about doing the right thing.
"I'll be honest," said Doug Klein, Collin's father. "I couldn't be any more proud of him than I was, anyway. I mean, I've known and have seen all of those things for a long time. Our family has been the beneficiary. He's just a special man."
Informed of the presentation, Snyder said, "Everybody thinks very strongly about Collin and his value system and the humility that he presents and how he's committed to helping others. Once you interact with him outside of football, it's easy to realize he's a very caring, quality young person that'll dedicate his life toward helping others."
K-State athletics director John Currie heard a firsthand account. His children were among the students sitting inside the gymnasium that day.
"Collin Klein epitomizes the finest attributes of intercollegiate athletics -- period," Currie said. "Already a graduate of K-State, he's an unbelievably selfless leader who's always shouldered accountability and who's always been the perfect citizen off the field."
Asked if Klein had ever done anything bad, senior wide receiver Chris Harper said, "I'm pretty sure. Everybody has. I'm not sure what it is."
Turns out, nobody knows.
"Even if he did something wrong, he was trying to do the right thing," Doug Klein said. "Like Chris said, nobody's perfect."
Shalin understands the question. She's heard it more than once.
"I have so many people come up and ask, 'What's Collin like at home? Is he like the person we see? Is that the real Collin Klein? Oh, you've got to have some dirt on him,'" Shalin said. "I say, 'No, I don't have any dirt on him. He's the real thing.' He's so humble. He's so giving. 'Real' is the only word. He's the real deal. It's not fake, it's not forced, it's just this humble, kind, gentle, loving man."
There are stories, various accounts that don't readily come to mind, only because they've become the fabric of Klein's being.
"His legacy would be to honor God first, honor family, and that he gave everything -- everything -- to be the kind of role model and person that parents want their kids to be," Shalin said. "I don't think proud could be the word. I'm so much more than proud. It's overwhelming to say the least."
Take, for instance, the fact that he might arrive back in Manhattan at 3 a.m. following a nighttime kickoff in Morgantown. Attending church service after only a few hours sleep, it's bound to happen: Children flock to Collin, asking for a moment of his time.
"I can't tell you how many times it'll happen, we'll be at church and a little kid will come up and ask, 'Could you teach me how to throw a football?'" Shalin recalled. "Others will ask if their three-step drop is OK, if their five-step drop is OK. He'll take 20 minutes out of our Sunday to talk with these kids, go to a farm and play with 12 to 15 kids -- flag football. Who does that? Of his caliber? Of his position?"
"Who does that?" she repeats, her voice raising. "Nobody. Nobody does that."
His hands, the ones that tightly gripped onto his son's hands as he taught him to steer a tractor, the ones that showed him how to throw a football, the ones that patted him on the back as he sat immersed in home-school studies, remain busy with a task that Doug Klein could have never imagined.
"I'm going through some photographs and I've got to finish up this project for ESPN and the Heisman," Doug said, "so I've been going through them and looking back."
His voice trails off.
"Surreal is a great word for it," he continued. "It's not that he's not deserving of it, or that the team isn't, because I see it as a team award. I know it's an individual award, but no one is going to win it by himself, I can tell you that right now. I don't even know if this has all landed on us yet. I'm responding to these requests and doing what they're asking us to do to be helpful, but at the same time I'm not connected yet. Surreal is a great word for it.
"If in fact he gets invited, I've been trying to picture what that's going to be like sitting there, and I can't even get my arms around that."
But in the aftermath of a harrowing defeat just a few days after Collin Klein was on the Sports Illustrated cover -- "27 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE BEST PLAYER ON THE NATION'S BEST TEAM," it read -- Doug Klein found his son outside the visiting locker room at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco, Texas, soon after Collin finished speaking with reporters.
Klein, 21-5 as a starter and needing one victory to match 1998 Heisman runner-up Michael Bishop for most wins ever in a K-State uniform, became inconsolable behind the scenes following a 52-24 loss to unranked Baylor in a game that knocked K-State, ranked at No. 1 in the BCS standings for the first time in history, from its perch after only six days.
"I tell you, too, John Currie, they were very respectful, and gave Collin and I a little corner," Doug said. "It was private, and we were able to sit there or 15 or 20 minutes and kind of regroup and console each other and just be together. It was very kind of them. I'm very grateful for that."
Klein, the Heisman Trophy frontrunner for more than a month; Klein, who became only the sixth player in Big 12 history to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 2,000 in a career; Klein, who has rushed for more touchdowns than any FBS quarterback in history in consecutive seasons; Klein, who has passed marks by Cam Newton (2010), Tim Tebow (2007) and Eric Crouch (2000) -- all Heisman winners -- suffered his first and only blemish of his senior season.
He completed 27 of 50 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns but suffered through a career-high three interceptions. He added 39 yards on the ground and one touchdown.
Ever since his first start against Texas in 2010, Klein has trumpeted his goal to any and all across the nation: "I just want to glorify my Lord and Savior and honor him with the gifts that he's given me and do the best I can for my team, and whatever that looks like, we'll be happy with it and go from there."
But what happens when the guy who does everything right to serve God has something go so wrong? What is to be learned? What is the message to be taken from such disappointment?
The words from the father, a deep thinker whose voice runs smooth and soft like a vessel cruising through a glassy lake, becomes choppy, idling, and at times, cracking while navigating through the inquiry.
"Well, first of all, I don't know that I could say anything that could even equal the depth of disappointment and the pain and the heartache and the heart-wrenching time after that, watching it unfold," he began. "I wish I was smart enough to be able to understand what God has in all of that. I know He does and I know there's a lot we can grab onto. A lot of this stuff is very fleeting."
Doug Klein's tone lowers almost to a whisper.
"We're doing our job, working hard, being committed, giving everything to Him," he continued. "It still doesn't mean that it's going to work out exactly the way you want it to. I don't think life does. Collin and I have talked about this. You can be doing everything right and it just falls apart.
"Just because we're believers and just because we serve a great God, a wonderful God, and we have a personal relationship with Him, life still happens."
It becomes important, of course, to disclose that contrary to popular belief, 10 other players are on the field with the offensive unit and 11 others play on defense and 11 more play on each of the special teams units.
"Whatever areas we haven't been as efficient at is certainly the responsibility of all 11 guys, not just Collin," Snyder reiterated. "If you made a highlight reel of Collin over the last couple years or so, you have to realize that when he does well, it's certainly by his merit, but by the same token, he had 10 other guys helping him."
After the loss that knocked K-State from the possibility of playing in its first national championship game, somebody asked Snyder about Klein's performance.
"He was tremendous," Snyder said. "Collin was tremendous. You talk about somebody carrying a team on their back and he did that with our offense."
The team returned home early Sunday morning. Shalin waited for her husband at home. They attended service a few hours later. She still tries to make sense of it all.
"His goal is to glorify God through the way he plays no matter what -- win, loss, draw, Heisman, no Heisman, awards, no awards," she said. "Whatever it is, his mindset and goal is always going to be the same, but that doesn't take away from going through something like Baylor.
"I'm at a loss for words. I've never seen him hurt so much."
He sat behind the same table in the same Big Eight room in the same Vanier Football Complex like so many times before. But on Tuesday, Collin Klein would deliver his last words publicly before heading out of the locker room alongside 26 other seniors, in front of a sellout crowd at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, to embrace Bill Snyder prior to his final game in Manhattan.
Talk about a loss for words. What might the epitome of K-State football and all that it stands for do when he meets its maker? What are those final words? What will they be?
No clue. None.
Mr. and Mrs. Klein contemplated that moment along with so many others before slipping off into slumber in their apartment Sunday night.
She asked him, "Are you going to cry?"
He replied, "No doubt."
Recalling their late-night conversation, Shalin sniffles.
"Just to lay there and think back over his journey, how he was a wide receiver, how he changed positions, you just start thinking back, and it brings tears to my eyes, and it brings tears to his eyes," Shalin said. "You can't help but get emotional when you've been so invested in a program, and so invested in a team, and so invested in just laying your heart on the line, honestly. To be able to clinch the Big 12, to have an opportunity to clinch an amazing bowl game, to finish a season as one of the best teams ever, those are all opportunities that are still in our hands.
"It's kind of hard because you have to balance the emotional side of it and then the work side of it, because you almost have to approach it as another game, but it's really not."
Collin Klein on Tuesday sat in his usual black sports jacket, purple polo shirt and gray T-shirt. There was a time when K-State won a total of 13 Big 12 games in a seven-year span that crested during his redshirt season in 2008. Since a 36-35 victory over No. 17 Baylor last Oct. 1 in Manhattan, the Wildcats have won 14 league games in the last 13 months.
None might mean more than Saturday.
"I'm very emotional about what I care about," Collin said, "and this program, this team, this university is definitely something I really do care about and have ever since I've been here, and will forever."
Kyle Klein, a redshirt freshman wide receiver at K-State who shared an off-campus home with his older brother prior to his marriage, has never caught a touchdown pass from Collin in an official football game at any level in his life. But Collin has been his constant the entire time.
Kelly, their mother, home-schooled them. They also studied the Bible and music. And both had to finish schoolwork before enjoying activities and sports, including flag football, hockey, soccer, baseball, basketball and football.
More recent in Manhattan, early mornings prior to fall camp became tutorials as older brother sat with younger brother at the breakfast table going over formations and routes. Sunday nights turned into worship services in the living room with friends, as Kyle sat behind a piano and Collin strummed a mandolin.
The first time Collin assumed a leadership role? He was 11. Doug coached Kyle's flag football team. Collin asked and was hired as the defensive coordinator.
"We were brothers and as kids we did have a backyard tussle every once in a while," Kyle said. "We shared a room together the whole time we lived in our parent's house, and to be very blunt, he's my best friend and I was his best friend growing up the whole time."
Doug has discovered difficulty in finding the perfect photographs of Collin to send to ESPN and the Heisman folks.
"Almost every single picture that was taken in Collin's childhood, he was either leaning against Kyle or Kyle was leaning against him," Doug said. "He was just that way and always has been."
Just as the scene with Collin Klein fans unfolded in the club level at Arrowhead Stadium last Sunday, Kyle, too, has shared his brother with everyone else. Collin pauses and welcomes fans with a warm hello, offers a few kind words, because, well, it's important to him. That's all he knows.
"A lot of people would call the ride magical," Kyle said. "To be honest, I wouldn't use that term to describe it. Obviously, it's not that simple, but 'A' plus 'B' equals 'C', and the hard work plus preparation equals success. He put in the hard work, took care of the preparation week to week and good things have followed.
"He's put his heart and his mind, everything he has, into this. It's been amazing and I've been so happy for him to see the success that he's had."
Harper doesn't see how one game can change everything.
"He goes out and we have one bad game and he's already out of it? I didn't know the Heisman goes off the last game you played," Harper said. "I thought it went off the whole season. But maybe the votes are different now, I guess."
There's a time in particular that Harper will miss. He'll miss sitting next to Klein on the sideline while the defense is on the field. So many times, the TV cameras will catch them talking, chuckling, or diagramming with their arms. Those times sitting in silence, too, are equally special.
However, there will be little silence on Saturday. The stadium will shake when Klein, a finalist for both the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and the Manning Award, jogs onto the field one last time to meet his parents during senior introductions.
"I know what this has meant to him, I know the sacrifices, the pain, the frustration, and to be able to see it all come together is very special," Doug said. "This is one last opportunity to do what he does in his own home. For all of those seniors, it'll be a special moment."
It's the Collin Klein story. But alas, it's not about him. It's about his team. It's about his family.
"I have so many fond memories of my time here," he said. "It's going to be hard. It's just been amazing. I can't put into words how special it's been. Coach Snyder always talks about finishing. For all of us seniors, finishing strong is no doubt what we want."
It's the Collin Klein story. One that Harper knows he'll tell his grandchildren about some day.
"It'll be a great story, and it'll evolve over time as we stay close like that," Harper said. "It's a story about a guy that was humble, one of the most humble guys you'll ever meet."
Does it pay to do the right thing?
It does.