Nov. 20, 2010 was an emotional day at Folsom Field.
Dan Hawkins, who was fired 12 days earlier, watched from the balcony of the Dal Ward Center as his son Cody threw three touchdowns to lead Colorado to a 44-36 victory over Kansas State on "Senior Day" in Boulder.
Nearly two years later, the backup quarterback that Saturday has emerged as the leading candidate to win the Heisman Trophy.
Unfortunately for the Buffs, Collin Klein plays at Kansas State.
"It was incredible. It really was," Doug Klein, Collin's father, recalled of watching his son come off the bench for the Wildcats to run for two touchdowns in the final Big 12 meeting between the programs at Folsom Field. "I can remember back in those Fairview days when my conditioning was running those same stadium steps and running 40's right down on that turf. ...
"When I was watching Collin out there going through warm-ups and then playing in the game, it was pretty emotional."
That's right, Collin Klein's dad grew up in Boulder.
Doug Klein played quarterback at Fairview High School for legendary coach Sam Pagano and was a teammate of Chuck Pagano, the Indianapolis Colts head coach, on some of the Knights' great teams of the era.
Collin Klein grew up to be a standout quarterback at Loveland High School. His coach always believed the "three-star" signal caller had the potential to be a program-changing player in major college football.
"He's the kind of a person, the kind of a player, the kind of an athlete, that makes a team better and the players around him better. It's the whole package that makes him special," longtime Loveland High School coach John Poovey said. "When coaches asked me about his ability, I told them he could play in the Big 12, even though at the time he was not the prototype. I thought he could create the same sort of impact Vince Young had (at Texas). Collin isn't as fast, but he had an ability to have an impact on the game like that, but in his own fashion. He wasn't going to be the freak athlete like Vince Young, but in that type of team environment he could have that type impact."
Klein committed to Kansas State during the brief Ron Prince era and played as a wide receiver and on special teams during his redshirt freshman season. His determination to play quarterback paid off and eventually Bill Snyder put the offense in his reliable hands.
"If a player like that doesn't have good ball skills, usually they end up as a DB," CU wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy said of Klein starting out at wide receiver. "When you watch him you see that he has great skills in terms of running, and I know his passing has come a long way. I just think he's a great leader. He's a special guy."
Colorado State showed late interest during the recruiting process after Steve Fairchild, a former Rams quarterback, replaced Sonny Lubick and turned on the film of local high school teams.
Dan Hawkins did not bother to recruit Klein or even write him a letter. The former CU head coach was looking for a "passing" quarterback.
Poovey said if Klein didn't fit into the Buffs' plans or Hawkins' system, then it wasn't his place to talk them into giving his guy an opportunity.
"What I try to tell players and parents is every coaching staff and every team has their own needs in what they're looking for," Poovey said. "Their job is on the line and it's their program, so I don't tell them what fits."
The Klein family, who are devout Christians, doesn't hold a grudge either.
"My parents and the Lord gave me the perspective of not feeling slighted," Collin Klein told the Denver Post last week. "There is no animosity toward those programs. I understand what they thought at the time. The Lord knew I was meant to be here."
Last Saturday Klein completed 19 of 21 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns and also scored four rushing touchdowns to lead Kansas State to a 55-14 dismantling of West Virginia on the road.
The Wildcats (7-0, 4-0) jumped over Oregon to the No. 3 spot in the latest BCS standings. Klein, a senior, stiff-armed Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith on the way to the front of the Heisman race.
Klein is No. 1 in the Scripps Heisman Poll this week after receiving first-place votes from all 10 poll voters. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o is a distant second entering this weekend's action.
"For Collin, that's pretty impressive," said current CU quarterback Connor Wood, a Texas transfer who saw Klein get a surprise start over Carson Coffman and then rush for 127 yards and two touchdowns in Kansas State's 39-14 victory over the Longhorns in 2010. "All the respect to him. He has the natural talent to play the position. ...
"I'm not surprised by (Kansas State). We played them in Manhattan my freshman year and they're tough sons-of-guns now. They might not be the most talented guys out there, but they play the hardest. That's why they're winning so much now and they're so competitive each week."
This week the Wildcats can take another big step on the road to a national championship against No. 14 Texas Tech.
Doug and his wife Kelly are making the trips from Loveland to all of the Kansas State games this season. Their son Kyle is a redshirt freshman wide receiver in Snyder's program.
"Our entire family, and Collin in particular, wanted him to be where the Lord wanted him to be," Doug Klein said when asked if he was disappointed that CU didn't pursue Collin. "Of course it would have saved us some money and time traveling back and forth on I-70, but Collin ended up in the right place."
The Buffs (1-6, 1-3) will also factor into the BCS equation on Saturday, likely playing the role of road kill on Pac-12 powerhouse Oregon's championship path.
CU will start Jordan Webb, Klein's former rival counterpart at Kansas, who has completed 127 of 228 passes (55.7 percent) for 1,351 yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. Due to 31 sacks, the junior transfer has minus-99 yards rushing with two touchdowns, including the game-winner at Washington State.
Klein has completed 98 of 139 passes (70.5 percent) for 1,397 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. He has also rushed for 551 yards and 14 touchdowns.
"He's been killing it," CU senior safety Ray Polk said of Klein. "I had no idea. We played Kansas State a couple years ago and it was like, 'They're an OK team, a good team.'
"But we had no idea they were going to be this football powerhouse a couple years down the road. It's great for them and I wish him the best."
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