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Kansas State’s Klein named Heisman finalist, wins Unitas Award

By Kellis Robinett, The Kansas City Star –

MANHATTAN, Kan. — The first day of college football’s award season couldn’t have gone much better for Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein.

He was selected a finalist for the Heisman Trophy on Monday along with Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. He also won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.

Klein will have to wait until 7 p.m. Saturday to see whether he won the Heisman, which will be presented during a nationally televised ceremony on ESPN from New York.

“I’m so proud to represent K-State in this because I feel like my road is very synonymous and in line with the K-State way,” Klein, a senior, said in a statement released by K-State. “It has been a process, it has been a journey. There have been a lot of ups and downs, as well as a lot of hard times and growing pains through it. I’m just very proud to represent the K-State family and our heart and spirit in this environment.”

Klein is the first Wildcat player to be a Heisman finalist since Michael Bishop was the runner-up in 1998. Darren Sproles also challenged for the award in 2003, finishing fifth, but was not a finalist.

No K-State player has won the award. Klein could be the first after leading the Wildcats to 11 wins and a Big 12 championship in the regular season by throwing for 2,490 yards, rushing for 890 yards and accounting for 37 total touchdowns. He guided K-State to a berth in the Fiesta Bowl, where it will play Oregon on Jan. 3.

He will face stiff competition before then in Manziel and Te’o.

Manziel put up huge stats — 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns passing and 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns rushing — while guiding Texas A&M to 10 wins and an upset victory at Alabama as a freshman. No freshman has ever won the Heisman, but most national experts consider him the favorite.

Te’o, a senior linebacker, was the leader of Notre Dame’s defense and helped the Fighting Irish go undefeated while making 101 tackles and seven interceptions. No defensive player has won the award since 1997.

Klein probably trailed both in voting going into K-State’s final game against Texas. But he might have earned some votes by amassing nearly 300 yards of offense and scoring three touchdowns while leading the Wildcats to an important victory.

No matter what happens in New York, he will bring home a trophy on Friday when he receives the Unitas Award in Baltimore. The award is presented annually to a quarterback who combines on-field success and academic achievement. To be eligible for the award, players must be nearing completion of their college eligibility or be a fourth-year junior on schedule to graduate with his recruiting class.

“Collin is not just a tremendous athlete and leader on the field, but an MVP off the field as well, who repeatedly has been recognized for his numerous contributions to the community and to the spirit of sportsmanship,” said John Unitas Jr., president of The Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Educational Foundation.

Klein added: “It’s a tremendous honor. Anyone that is familiar with the game of football recognizes that name. I’m just happy to represent Kansas State, our team and what we’ve been able to accomplish this season.”

Klein was one of 29 candidates for the Unitas Award when the season began, and one of five finalists. The four others were USC’s Matt Barkley, Florida State’s EJ Manuel, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron and West Virginia’s Geno Smith.

Past winners include six quarterbacks who went on to claim the Heisman Trophy, as well as current NFL players Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck and Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn.

Klein, along with his family and K-State coach Bill Snyder, will be in Baltimore on Friday and New York on Saturday to attend the ceremonies.

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