Klein devoted to service as much as football
MANHATTAN, Kan. — Of the 103,000 miles on the family minivan — a 2002 Chrysler Town & Country — Jim McCord figures about 28,000 have been in pursuit of Collin Klein.
"Well worth the money," McCord chuckles. "And the time."
The unofficial president of The Collin Klein Fan Club happens to be a 73-year-old retired firefighter in Nokomis, Fla., an hour south of Tampa and a mile-and-a half east of Blackburn Bay. McCord and his wife Judy drive 3,800 miles, round trip, to watch the Kansas State quarterback do his thing, the emotional centerpiece of their annual trek to and from the Rocky Mountains.
"It was one of those God-sent things that I was fortunate enough to be around and watch him play and watch him grow up and be what he is today," Jim explains. "It's one of those things where you just have a feeling that somebody is special."
Tales of Klein's generosity these days are like belly buttons: Everybody has one. Jim's tale harkens back to 2005, when Collin was chewing up the scenery with the Loveland (Colo.) High School football team.
Jim, then 66, was living nearby at the time and had become acquainted with one of the Loveland coaches. One day, McCord asked the coach if he could recommend any trustworthy volunteers who could help pack up a truck for a move from Colorado back to his native Florida. A short time later, Collin and his brother Kyle turned up at the front door.
"They were so polite," Jim says. "Good sense of humor. Kind of fun to be around."
So much fun, in fact, that Jim and Judy made a point to drive all the way back from Florida to Colorado the next fall to cheer the boys on. Then they did it again and again.
When the brothers enrolled at Kansas State, the McCords simply shifted the itinerary. The boys' parents, Doug and Kathy, arranged for the Florida couple to obtain tickets to one home game a year at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
"Obviously there was a relationship there, based on an act of help," Doug says, "On an act of service."
Just as with football, Collin Klein takes his service seriously. He visits the elderly. He encourages kids to read. As a prayer group leader at Manhattan's Grace Baptist Church, he's spearheaded a number of faith-based efforts in the Flint Hills and beyond. As a member of Kansas State's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, the 6-foot-5 signal-caller has volunteered at the Special Olympics and helped deliver food to needy families in the area during the holidays. The kid's touched more hearts than Hawkeye Pierce.
"And am I perfect at that? Heck, no," says Klein, whose No. 15 Wildcats visit No. 6 Oklahoma on Saturday night on FOX.
"Do I fail at it every day? Yes. Is it something I'm trying to get better at? Of course. It's a process. But it's something that you can do 24-7."
To that end, Collin on Tuesday was named to the AFCA's Good Works Team — the first Wildcat to be so honored since 2005. On Thursday, he was announced as a candidate for the Senior CLASS Awards, which recognizes a student-athlete at an FBS school for their acumen in the community, in the classroom, in their character and in competition.
"That desire, no doubt, stems from my faith," Klein says. "I was, and am, very blessed with a family that kind of taught me and showed me what that means ... what it's all about. So that (spirit) actually becomes your own."
The spirit was ingrained early, by example as much as anything else. Rather than always stress the gravitas and the benefits, Doug and Kelly Klein found ways to convince their sons that community service also could be a whole mess of fun.
During several Christmases, the Kleins would put cash on a Wal-Mart gift card, stick it in an envelope along with a note that read 'God Bless You.' Then they'd select a family in the area they knew had hit a rough patch to receive it.
They'd gather up the kids, load up the car and park a few blocks from that family's home. Collin and Kyle would sneak onto the front porch, card in hand, leave it at the doorstep, ring the bell and run away like a couple of scared deer.
"And they would fly back to the car," Doug recalls. "We would be sitting there and made sure (it was picked up), because there was a fair amount of money sitting in that card. We wanted to make sure they got it. As long as we knew they had it, nobody ever knew except the four of us.
"So we would do stuff like that all the time, but nobody knew because we didn't want them to know. That wasn't the point."
The point was giving what you could, when you could, whether it be cash or a loving embrace.
Through Grace Baptist, Collin became tight with the family of another member of the congregation, Ralph Richardson, dean of the K-State vet school — and Richardson's mother-in-law, Frances. The kids called her "Granny Franny," a 5-foot-tall bundle of purple pride.
"That young man would walk in and would just lean down and give her the most gentle hug," Richardson says. "She grew about 6 inches whenever he came in the room."
Last November, Granny Franny, now 90, had taken a turn for the worse. Richardson called Klein to see if he could stop by, even for second, in an effort to boost her spirits.
"He said, 'I'll be there in a New York minute,'" Richardson recalls. "That's a direct quote. He headed for the (nursing home) and went in to see her, and it was really special."
Collin Klein finds time, however fleeting. Even as obligations to academics (he holds a degree in finance), football, media and marriage (he wed Shalin Spani, daughter of former K-State and Kansas City Chiefs standout Gary Spani, this past July) have turned his free minutes into a myth.
"It's hard for him to say, 'No,'" K-State program director for football academics Ragean Hill says. "(He's) well-rounded. Everything you want your child to become, in a sense."
Doug Klein, as you might imagine, hears that a lot. And you know what? It never gets old.
"It's fulfilling to know that other people are getting to know them deeper than football," the elder Klein says. "Because (both boys) are fine athletes and just competitive like crazy and all that stuff. But who they are is much larger than that."
Much, much larger.
"We're hoping Collin gets drafted by someone in the NFL that will treat him fairly," Jim McCord said. "And give him a chance to show what he's worth."
Because wherever it is, however far the drive, Jim and Judy will make a point to be there. In a New York minute.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org