A.J. Klein: I think right away because one week into camp I got bumped up to number two at middle linebacker and thrown into the special teams mix. From then on out, Coach Rhoads pretty much made it clear that I would be playing as a freshman. I really feel it was good to get the experience and it is already helping me get ready for this upcoming season.
Cyclone Sports Report: What did you learn about the linebacker position in college that you didn't expect coming out of high school?
A.J. Klein: The game plan is more involved than in high school. Nothing can prepare you for it because you have to know the play book and be able to take that understanding out on to the field. I feel like I'm starting to become a football player from the standpoint of fully understanding the game. Watching film throughout the season really helped and it eventually just clicks and makes sense in regards to why you run a specific defense against a certain team. The transition mentally was really the biggest challenge I faced last season.
Cyclone Sports Report: What did you improve on the most?
A.J. Klein: With the experience I feel I matured mentally in regards to knowing where I have to be on the field. I think bowl preparation time really helped me as I feel like as the season went on I made a lot better reads and more plays on the ball. I feel like I know what I'm doing now and having Jesse (Smith), Freddie (Garrin), Josh (Raven), and Derec (Schmidgall) provide me with insight all season long really helped.
Cyclone Sports Report: What are you still trying to get better at heading into next season?
A.J. Klein: Mentally I'm a better student of the game but I still need to show more physicality and I'm working on getting off blocks better and showing stronger pass coverage. I'm also trying to get faster to stay up with some of the guys that I have to cover that run 4.3's and 4.4's. I also learning the SAM and MIKE linebacker position in case I have to switch playing middle linebacker.
Cyclone Sports Report: How did Coach Rhoads help you as a player?
A.J. Klein: He really brings a love for the game that passes on to each player in a good way. He brings so much passion each day to practice and shares it with everyone. He helps with tackling and that is what you want to see from a head coach. Many times I would stay after and do extra tackling drills and his words of wisdom really helped.
Cyclone Sports Report: Do you feel that you need to take on more of a leadership role at the linebacker position considering the position will be so young for the next few years?
A.J. Klein: I feel like I was thrown into it last season and I got to learn a lot from the seniors. Now I want to be a big part of the defense. Me and Jake (Knott) need to take control and be leaders over the next few years. We're going to have to teach the young guys coming in when they have questions because the coaches won't always be there.
Cyclone Sports Report: The schedule next season adds Utah, Oklahoma, and Texas which should make for a lot tougher ride. How do you approach this situation knowing that things could be even tougher next season?
A.J. Klein: It really shouldn't matter because we're working hard and it's really just something we can't worry about. We just have to outwork the competition and it really just puts a hitch in your step because you want the challenge. In order to be a champion you have to overcome these type of challenges and it's what you have to do if you want to prove yourself.
Cyclone Sports Report: A year ago you were trying to win a state championship at the high school level. What was it like to be a contributing member to a team that won the Insight Bowl in your first season?
A.J. Klein: Overall, it was a real special year and I can't believe how fast it went. When I was talking with the seniors at the bowl game they told me to cherish the time I have at Iowa State because it will go fast. It hadn't really crossed my mind until then but now I realize it will go fast so I'm just going to enjoy the ride. Considering the team had gone 2-10 the year before it was somewhat hard to believe that we were able to do what we did.