It was January 2002, and Joel Klatt had just quit the San Diego Padres' Class A team in Eugene, Ore. A third baseman, Klatt had grown tired of life in the minors. Thinking of playing football at a Division II school, he asked a family friend, Colorado offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, where he should go. "Come here," Watson told Klatt. "You could play quarterback for us."
"I was shocked," says the 23-year-old Klatt. "I didn't think I was good enough to play for the Buffaloes."
Klatt's been more than that--the third-year starter has emerged as Colorado's key player. Last year the Buffaloes won their third Big 12 North Division title in four years, and with 17 starters returning from an 8--5 team, Colorado is the heavy favorite to repeat in the weakened division. "I feel especially good about having Joel back," says coach Gary Barnett. "He's got great poise, which comes from being a little older than your typical college quarterback."
The 6'1", 210-pound Klatt figured his run as a starter was over last Oct. 16 when Barnett benched him against Iowa State. At the time Barnett thought Klatt was forcing too many passes. "Getting benched was the best thing that happened to me," says Klatt. "Football wasn't fun. I never left the athletic building before 10:30 at night because I was studying so much film. The benching helped me get balance back in my life."
When Klatt returned to the starting lineup the following week at Texas A&M, he was a more patient quarterback. He threw for 346 yards in a 29--26 loss and then led the Buffaloes to four wins in their last five games. He enters his final season with a chance to break every major passing record in school history. He's fifth in passing yards (4,659) and touchdowns (30), first in completion percentage (61.2) and seventh in efficiency rating (125.3).
"The momentum we had going at the end of last season should carry over to this season," says Klatt. "We're going to surprise a lot of people this fall." -- L.A.