Joel Reichenberger: Looking for my favorite player

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Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Joel here.

— I was celebrating in Manhattan, Kan., a week ago after Kansas State had improved to 5-0 by torpedoing in-state rival Kansas when fellow Steamboat Today sports reporter Luke Graham shot me a text message.

“Is Collin Klein your favorite K-State football player of all time?”

It’s an interesting question, one I took a little bit deeper by wondering whether I, as a 30-year old, can still assign that tag to a twentysomething kid.

As I photographed the Steamboat-Palisade football game Friday night, I was reminded of the guy who should be my favorite, quarterback Chad May.

I was 11 years old when Chad May came to K-State in 1993. That was the year the game’s best coach (Seriously. Debate me. I dare you.), Bill Snyder, really got things rolling. The Cats made a bowl game for only the second time in school history that season, and in annihilating Wyoming, won their first.

K-State wasn’t an overwhelmingly talented team that year, but May was a strong-armed quarterback and Snyder did everything he could to take advantage of that. The lasting image of May, for me, is him in Nebraska’s vaunted Memorial Stadium in shotgun formation, five receivers wide, a sea of red screaming to try to drown out the upstarts in purple.

He set a Big 8 record that day, throwing for nearly 500 yards, but a couple late touchdowns kept the Cornhuskers' absurd winning streak in the series alive.

OK, so it’s a tenuous connection, but something about watching Steamboat’s Christian Ramirez throw and throw and throw against long odds struck a chord with me Friday night.

Does May, the strong-armed star of my childhood, have to be my all-time favorite K-State football player, though? I don’t know. He’s on the list, although as I age the requirements for making it change. It’s no longer just about being a beast, it’s about being an underrated beast.

May was joined while I was in college by Darren Sproles, the diminutive running back who was “too small for big-time football.” He was the nation’s best running back in 2003, and, of course, is now almost a decade deep into his NFL career.

Jordy Nelson made the list a few years later when he walked on at K-State as a defensive back. Snyder shifted him to receiver and now he beat your fantasy football team last weekend with three touchdowns for the Green Bay Packers.

And Collin Klein, yes, has to make the list, too. Klein is easy to pick because at first, second and third glance, he doesn’t have the makings of an elite player. Guys like Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Dayne Crist (one of these is not like the others ... ) were the stud quarterback recruits the year Klein came out of high school. He seemed more likely to make the field as a receiver than as a quarterback.

Klein is filled to the brim with heart, and the kid is as tough as a steel post. He’s deceptively fast, has great vision and a mind-boggling sense of patience, frequently coming to a full stop in the backfield behind his line while waiting for blocks to unfold.

And here’s the best part: Klein can be your favorite K-State football player, too. He’s a Colorado kid, from Loveland, and the list of programs that overlooked him includes both CU and CSU. Now, he even makes the occasional trip to Steamboat with teammate and friend Jay Hanley.

So, tune in to Fox on 5 p.m. Saturday as the 6-0 Wildcats are underdogs against West Virginia, and join me in cheering.

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