Iowa State senior linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott will anchor the middle of the Cyclone defense this fall in an unusual situation where both already have three years of starting experience.
All that experience has garnered lots of preseason honors and has both on watch lists along with the other top linebackers in the country.
Knott, a Waukee native, says he’ll be happier if people are saying and writing the same things in December.
“All this stuff before the season is great and we’re both very happy and blessed to be on it, but I’d rather hear someone tell one of us that we won one of these awards after the season, that’s when you can worry about it,” Knott says.
“Right now you’ve got to worry about the games, you can’t get a big head or anything like that.” Klein agrees and says the pre-season attention won’t change him. “Not at all, I mean it’s not going to change who I am,” according to Klein.
“Last year I didn’t expect to win any awards and this year I don’t expect to win any awards…. I have to prove myself not matter what it is. Being on a watch list means being on a watch list. It’s preseason for a reason, you haven’t proven anything yet. I’m looking to obviously just improve on my season from where I left off last season, at a high level and continuing to be at that high level, and whatever happens, happens.”
Klein says the linebackers are the quarterback of the defense and Knott says they are ready to lead. “We both are lucky enough to be elected captains by our teammates. To have that, to kind of show that the two defensive captions are linebackers proves that we need to be leaders both on and off the field of the defense. And to be able to do that we’ve just got to go out and keep showing them the right things to do, and if they don’t know, teach them the right things to do,” according to Knott.
He says three years of playing together has allowed him to instinctively make calls on defense. Knott says they have non-verbal communication where they can look at each other and know what call to make on defense without saying anything because of all the repetition in games and practice.
Klein agrees that all the time and work has put them where they are. “Yeah, experience is a huge deal. The more experienced you are, the slower the game is for you, the faster you can react and the more plays you can make,” Klein explains. “For me and Jake, over the past three years being together, the game has slowed down for us, that’s why we’ve been mostly successful on game day as far as being in the right positions. Experience isn’t all of it, we’ve got to have great coaches and we do have great coaches…it’s being a student of the game and learning before you get on the field.”
Klein says the upset wins they had last year and going to a bowl game has help boost their confidence.”Going into the season I think we have a little more momentum. We have young talent, we have guys who’re looking to prove themselves in camp. We’re gonna have some competition, and I think competition brings out the best in people,” Klein says.
“Going into this camp I think we’ve had the best summer offseason we’ve had since I’ve been here. Strength levels are through the roof and conditioning levels are right up there as well.” The Cyclones were picked eighth in the conference preseason, poll. Klein isn’t surprised they’re aren’t getting much credit.
“Yeah, there’s always that we’ve got to prove ourselves, I mean people don’t expect us to win, that’s the culture we’re trying to change around here. We want people to see us not as underdogs, but as people that are expected to win,” Klein explains. “… it’s more than just having a winning season, we want to take this team to a championship level. And there’s a lot of hard work that has to go into this camp in preparation for the season that we haven’t accomplished yet.”
Both Klein and Knott were named to the preseason All-Big 12 First Team defense. Klein was the 2011 Big 12 co-Defensive player of the year last year. The Cyclones open the season hosting Tulsa on September 1st.