MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — They’ve never met, never even talked, but they’d probably be best of friends.
Both of them were home schooled, both are rooted deeply in their Christian faith. Both were standout prep players who overcame funky throwing motions to develop into bruising, run-first quarterbacks for two of college football’s most accomplished coaches.
All that Collin Klein needs to do now is lead No. 3 Kansas State to a national championship, stop by the Best Buy Theater in New York to accept the Heisman Trophy along the way, and the comparisons to former Florida star and current Jets backup Tim Tebow may never end.
“I’ve never met him and I’ve barely ever heard him speak, but watching him, you can see his team believes in him,” Tebow said in an interview with The Associated Press. “He has great leadership, great poise, awesome competitive excellence and he’s a winner. At the end of games and in big situations in games, he always comes through. That’s an awesome trait.”
It’s one of the traits that defined Tebow’s career with the Gators.
Just like Klein, who has developed under the sagely wisdom of Bill Snyder, Tebow leaned on the guidance of Urban Meyer to become one of the sports’ most dynamic players.
Tebow served as a change-of-pace backup to Chris Leak his freshman season, when the Gators won the national title, but followed it up with one of the most statistically impressive seasons in the history of major college ball.
Tebow threw for 3,286 yards, completed 66.9 percent of his passes, and had 32 touchdown passes with only six interceptions. But it was on the ground where he truly set himself apart, running for 895 yards and 23 touchdowns with the kind of power usually found in a fullback.
He wound up taking home the Heisman Trophy over Arkansas running back Darren McFadden.
Looking back, Tebow recognizes the similarities between the 2007 season he put together — and the two after that — with the senior season that Klein is having in the Flint Hills.
He’s on pace to throw for 2,649 yards with 20 touchdowns and just three interceptions this season, and would finish with 1,030 yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground.
Numbers quite similar to Tebow’s Heisman season.
“I’ve gotten to see a lot of him last year to this year. I’m a huge college football fan, so I watch all the time, and I love watching what they do,” Tebow said. “I’ve watched their offensive film, seeing some of the stuff they do, some of the read-option and short yardage stuff they do, goal-line plays, and seeing how he handles that. He does a great job.”
Tebow is so enamored of Klein that’s made it a point to watch the Wildcats (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) whenever he can, dissecting the performance by what could be his doppelganger.
Case in point: Kansas State’s gutsy victory at Iowa State earlier this season.
Tebow can recall specific plays that Klein made down the stretch.
“He needed to make a play on third-and-11, the rush came and he broke free and ran, broke a tackle and scored a touchdown,” Tebow said. “That was a huge play where most people might say, ‘Oh, he just ran into the end zone.’ No, if they get stopped there, they go up by six or something and Iowa State might go down and win the game. You never know. But he kind of sealed the deal.”
Klein brushes off the similarities to Tebow, though he’s acknowledged many times that he’s appreciative of the comparisons — more so for the values that Tebow represents off the field than his jaw-dropping performances on it.
Tebow’s missionary work, particularly in the Philippines, is well known.
“I think I’m very blessed that God has provided my upbringing in a way that I had parents and coaches that invested in me, and provided a foundation to understand what’s really important, and success is fleeting in this world,” Klein said. “There’s bigger things at stake.”
Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett said Klein’s work ethic is what sets him apart.
“He’s a very good practice player,” Klein said. “He works in every area, whether it’s in his throwing, in his vision, in his running, just calling the plays, reading defenses. He’s a student of the game, and when he comes out on the field, we trust whatever he does.”
That trust is a big reason why Snyder, much like Meyer with Tebow, has turned over a large amount of control of the Kansas State offense.
“He understands his responsibilities,” Snyder said, “and how he needs to handle them.”
Snyder has praised Klein for remaining even-keeled, even as the Wildcats barrel toward a spot in the BCS title game. They’re No. 2 in the standings heading into Saturday’s game against Oklahoma State, and then have three more games left to polish off the school’s first undefeated season.
Then it’s up to the voters and computers to decide whether it’s been good enough.
One thing is certain: Klein has been plenty good enough.
“Hearing that he does it the right way, it’s awesome, because he’s going to have so many kids looking up to him in Kansas who want to be the next Collin Klein,” Tebow said. “That’s more important than what he’s doing on the field right now.”
AP Sports Writer Dennis Waszak Jr. contributed to this report.
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