Heisman finalist on display in annual Shrine Game
A month ago, Collin Klein was being celebrated on one of college football's biggest stages as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
Now he's back to trying to prove that he's more than just a good college player.
The former Kansas State quarterback headlines a group of NFL hopefuls that will be on display for scouts in Saturday's annual East West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla.
''It's been a lot of fun. A lot of new stuff, so I'm drinking from a fire hydrant, but we're having a good time,'' said Klein, who will play for the East team. ''It's great to meet and get to know the guys. It's a great opportunity and I'm trying to make the most of it.''
While many of the players projected to go in the early rounds of April's NFL draft are participating in the Senior Bowl later this month, the Shrine Game has developed a reputation in recent years as a place where scouts can discover an overlooked prospect.
Washington Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris is probably the most recent example.
The former Florida Atlantic standout was barely a speck on draft boards before catching the eyes of scouts during his practice week in St. Petersburg for last year's Shrine Game.
He went on to be drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 draft by the Redskins and rushed for more than 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns as a rookie this season.
West team coach Lehman Bennett said that track record for this and other all-star games has only invigorated this year's participants more.
''These guys are here like a job interview, selling themselves, so it doesn't take a whole lot of motivation,'' Bennett said. ''They realize what's at stake. They can become a third-round draft choice or a second-round draft choice instead of a fifth-round draft choice. That's what we're trying to help them do.''
Bennett said players that have impressed him this week include former Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege, 6-foot-7 former Nevada tight end Zach Sudfeld and Utah State RB Kerwynn Williams, who is just 5-8 and 191 pounds.
''He's a small guy. The NFL's going to grade him down a little bit, but he's got real good quickness in him,'' he said of Williams. ''I think he has a good chance to make it.''
On defense, Bennett likes cornerback Terry Hawthorne from Illinois and linebackers Nathan Williams (Ohio State) A.J. Klein (Iowa State).
East linebacker Sam Barrington, who went to nearby South Florida, said the overriding emotion he's felt this week is just thankfulness for the opportunity to improve his professional stock.
''You watch some of these guys all around the country, and now to be out amongst these guys, it's a blessing and I'm appreciative of that,'' he said. ''The most important thing is to accumulate some skills from these coaches and learn. I'm trying to put myself in better position for the NFL.''
But for a player like Klein, who has been on the national stage for a big name program, it's no secret that the stakes and spotlight will be brighter.
Klein had a remarkable senior season, throwing for 2,641 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also rushed for more than 900 yards to go along with 23 rushing touchdowns.
Former Heisman winner Tim Tebow faced a halo of scrutiny coming out of a standout career at Florida because of his throwing motion. Klein, too, is being trailed by those same questions and told reporters this week that he had no interest in changing positions on the pro level.
That places everything back on his performance in the handful of months before the draft, beginning on Saturday.
Though, East coach Jerry Glanville puts him in rare company among quarterbacks.
''He has so many pluses to him,'' Glanville said. ''He reminds me years ago of a youngster at Tennessee, went on and played for the Colts, now he plays for Denver. I see a lot of the same characteristics in him.''
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