"I have a great respect for those guys and what they go through," Klein tells Inside The Auburn Tigers. "It's hard enough to play college football and go to class. I can't imagine having the military aspect on top of that. That was one of the questions I had with Joe (Whitt Jr.) ‘How are the guys going to react?' But they're here to win, they're here to play football. I have pretty much had a warm welcome with everybody, which is good."
Klein passed for 1,038 yards as a redshirt freshman in 1999 while starting four games and playing in four others. He added 101 passing yards in three relief appearances as a sophomore.
That welcome may not have been possible without a little good-natured ribbing between friends. Following his first season as a coach at The Citadel, Whitt returned to Auburn to spend some time with his family including his father, AU linebacker coach Joe Whitt. While on campus he ran into Klein and after some discussion the process had been put into motion for Klein to head to South Carolina.
"I wound up here through Joe Whitt Jr.," Klein says of his former Auburn wide receiver who once caught passes thrown by Klein. "I actually went up to him and approached him about playing again. It was kind of on a whim, kind of jokingly, because I knew I was done with football. I said, ‘You guys need a quarterback over there?' I was just joking and then he said ‘Yeah, we've only got one right now.' The player that started last year left the team so the next thing you know the ball was rolling. I had to get in some classes and I had to graduate so I wouldn't have to go through the military part of things."
Before arriving in his new surroundings, Klein says he was nervous about breaking a tradition at The Citadel. However, once he got familiar with his new teammates and coaches, he says that things have been better than he could have ever expected.
"Being here has renewed my love for football again," he says. "I'm excited about being out there. I'm excited for two-a-days. So far it has been a warm welcome. I'm actually living with the other quarterback right now. We've got a pretty good relationship. He's been working with me on the offense and it's exciting because he just wants to win. He's one of those guys that doesn't care how it happens, he just wants to win. He's like me, regardless of who's playing he just wants to come out a winner."
That may be a little difficult in the early going for Klein and his teammates as they travel to Baton Rouge Sept. 7 to face the SEC champion LSU Tigers in Death Valley. As a player who has experience in big stadiums against big-time opponents, Klein notes that he's already started telling them what they can expect when they head to the bayou.
"I've already talked to them about LSU," he says with a laugh. "I told them the biggest thing is having confidence. A team can go in there and look at the big stadium, the big crowd, the noisy crowd, and just get overwhelmed. A lot of these guys are great athletes that fell through the cracks in recruiting. They didn't have the story book high school career. That's why I talk to them about confidence. They have to know they can beat that guy in front of them."
Confidence is something that has never been a problem for Klein. Following a redshirt year at Auburn in 1998, he was forced into action during the 1999 season and while he didn't have the type of season he wished for, he did show some glimpses of his talent in a loss to Florida when he led the Tigers on two scoring drives. Following the season he appeared to be challenging Ben Leard for the starting job in spring practice only to go down with a serious knee injury just a week before the A-Day spring game. That virtually ended his chances for a starting job in an Auburn uniform as he was never able to recover the feeling he had before the injury. However, now that he says he is rejuvenated, Klein adds there is not a doubt in his mind that he'll be the starter this season when the Bulldogs take the field.
"I wouldn't be here if they didn't think I was going to be able to play," Klein says. "It's going to be us fighting it out. It's going to be a good competition."
Jeff Klein is shown during a spring practice at Auburn.
No matter what happens this season, Klein can always take solace in the fact that he never gave up on himself in the game of football and in the game of life. Just last month Klein graduated from Auburn just in time to become eligible to play at The Citadel this fall. But it wasn't without some drama. Dropping classes, adding classes, getting internships, that all came into play for Klein as he was able to complete his degree from Auburn when he didn't think that would be possible that quickly just three months earlier.
"It had to be divine intervention for me to get here," Klein notes. "Everything kind of dropped into place and that was great. That's why it's exciting for me to start playing again. It seems like I'm supposed to be here with all those things happening.
"It felt great walking over that stage. It kind of blew my mind thinking that was the end of that chapter of my life. I wouldn't give up anything that I've gotten or anything that happened to me at Auburn. I wouldn't change it for the world because that's what kind of person I am now. That's what made me who I am now and what got me here."