AMES — For three years, Iowa State fans have gone to Jack Trice Stadium and seen jersey numbers 47 and 20 zip all over the football field like cheetahs in the jungle. This pair of All-Big 12 linebackers has given the Cyclone Nation some great memories. Wins over No. 2 Oklahoma State and Iowa come to mind as highlights in 2011. Of course there was a Texas in 2010.
As true freshmen, these two were mad men on special teams. Fans saw then what could be to come in the very near future.
During their sophomore and junior campaigns, the bash brothers combined to record an unbelievable 472 tackles. Knott was a Big 12 honorable mention Defensive Player of the year in 2010. Klein was the Big 12’s Co-Defensive Player of the year in 2011.
And now for the “Captain Obvious” statement of the day…
Jake Knott and A.J. Klein are special. Very, very, very special that is.
“It’s a very big luxury and something that’s never been witnessed in this program before,” said head coach Paul Rhoads.
On a national scale, just how special are they?
Iowa State’s defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, a 46-year coaching veteran, has a long history with great linebackers. During Thursday’s Media Day, Burnham went as far as to compare Knott and Klein to a couple of guys he coached decades ago who just happen to be multi-year All-Americans at Florida State – Derrick Brooks and Marvin Jones.
“Their attitude was that, ‘You’re not going to beat me. I’m going to work harder than you. Study more than you. I’m going to learn.’ These kids are the same way,” said Burhnam.
Brooks was the 2002 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year and went on to be a nine-time Pro Bowler.
That’s some decent company for a couple of guys who didn’t have an additional BCS offer (between the two of them) to stand on besides Iowa State coming out of high school. Heck, if it wasn’t for an 11th hour offer from Rhoads, Knott would have played baseball in college. While Brooks and Jones were highly-touted prospects out of high school and could have gone just about anywhere in the country due to their elite athleticism, Knott and Klein had their work ethics and brains to rely on. Ability and talent matter, but intangibles are what has gotten this duo so far.
“They have worked their butts off,” said Burnham. “You can have a lot of football ability but if you don’t know how to use it, it doesn’t do you any good.”
Because of this hard work on the field, in the weight room and maybe most importantly of all, the film room, Knott and Klein are at a spot in their careers where they can see the future. Literally.
“As a linebacker, you need to diagnose the play. That’s what these guys do because they understand the game,” said Burnham. “They see something happening and they know the play where another guy will just react to what we’ve practiced in practice but he won’t make an adjustment during the play. That’s what sets these kids apart.”
Knott and Klein are both unanimous preseason picks to land on the Big 12’s All Big 12 team in 2012. Without one another, that might not have been the case heading into the 2012 season.
“They challenge each other off of the field to accomplish that,” said Rhoads. “They are strong in the weight room. They are smart in the classroom. They are fast and physical on the football field.”
Burhnam put them in the same category as one of the best linebacking duos in 25 years. Rhoads stated that Iowa State football has never seen a pair of linebackers like this. They are elite football players, great students, roommates and close friends with impeccable reputations.
Simply put, Jake Knott and A.J. Klein really are the total package. Be careful to not take them for granted in 2012. A duo like this might not ever come around again.