Manhattan — It’s usually worth taking notice whenever Bill Snyder decides to single out a player the first week of fall camp. After all, the longtime Kansas State coach rarely doles out public praise.
Welcome to the spotlight, Collin Klein.
The junior quarterback played sparingly for the Wildcats last season, mostly as an option alternative to senior Carson Coffman. The former wide receiver with the long stride and plenty of athleticism ran for 424 yards and six touchdowns, but he comes into this season having thrown just 19 passes in his college career.
While that might normally cause a coach anxiety, Snyder is genuinely at ease with his likely starter.
Some of it has to do with the way Klein lit up the Kansas State defense during the spring game, when he was allowed to call many of his own plays and decided to air it out — he finished 25-of-37 for 358 yards and five touchdowns. The rest of it has to do with Klein’s maturity and personal growth.
“You’ve heard me say for 20-some odd years, if you were to define Kansas State football or my philosophy in one word, that word is ‘improve,”’ Snyder said. “Collin is a young guy that really grasps that concept. I don’t think that a day has gone by since he’s been in this program he hasn’t found a way to get better.”
That’s about as good as it gets from Snyder.
There were legitimate concerns about the quarterback spot at the conclusion of last season. Coffman was never flashy, but he still managed to throw for 2,060 yards and 14 touchdowns with only seven interceptions, and his ability to minimize mistakes while orchestrating Snyder’s often complex offense was a significant reason the Wildcats were able to reach their first bowl game since 2006.
Klein was 11-of-18 for 138 yards last season, despite playing 10 games, and third-stringer Sammuel Lamur tried just three passes, fewer than half of what departed running back Daniel Thomas attempted.
So while Snyder was quick to anoint Klein the future starter, it was assumed that the race would be tight through camp.
Turns out, it is Klein’s job to lose before the Sept. 3 opener against Eastern Kentucky.
“Coach Snyder, from the top to the bottom, every position across the board is going to be competitive. It’s that way on purpose,” Klein said during the team’s annual media day. “Everybody gets an opportunity to make plays. When you get that opportunity, you’d better make the most of it.”
Kansas State brought in extra competition when it recruited junior college standout Justin Tuggle, who arrived on campus in time for spring football. The son of former NFL linebacker Jessie Tuggle started three times for Boston College as a redshirt freshman in 2009 and threw for 229 yards and four touchdowns.
In fact, he’s thrown more passes as a Div. I quarterback than Klein and Lamur combined.
He transferred to Blinn College last season, the same school that sent Cam Newton to Auburn. There, Tuggle drew comparisons to the Heisman Trophy winner with his running ability, footwork and leadership. He threw for 2,015 yards and 17 TDs, while rushing for 733 yards and 12 more scores.
While he fits more into the mold of former Kansas State stars Michael Bishop and Ell Roberson than anybody else on the roster, Tuggle is still trying to climb from No. 3 on the depth chart. Quarterbacks coach Del Miller was emphatic that Klein is the expected starter, with Lamur first off the bench.
Either way, the easygoing Klein isn’t too worried about his place in the pecking order.
“My job is just to make sure I get better, to the best of my ability, in every aspect of the game and the position,” Klein said, sounding very much like his veteran head coach.
“A day doesn’t go by he doesn’t enhance his understanding of the totality of our offense, the complexities of it, and he does it from a global standpoint as opposed to just the position that he plays,” Snyder said. “He continues to work hard, and I think he’s continued to improve.”