Penn State LB Kline Has Healthy Attitude

Senior is hoping injury issues are behind him as he approaches his final season as a Nittany Lion.

When Penn State veteran defensive end Carl Nassib was recently asked about fellow senior Ben Kline, he came up with an … uh … interesting way to describe the linebacker.

“Ben's doing awesome,” Nassib said. “I'm really, really impressed with him. I called him 'Frankenstein' the other day because…”

At this point, Nassib caught himself, no doubt remembering Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin's policy of not commenting on injuries. So Nassib veered in a slightly different direction in his praise of Kline.

“He's a machine,” Nassib said after a pause. “For what he's been through, he plays like he's never skipped a beat.”

If Kline is a machine, then he's one that has been in for more than its share of repairs. Yet after a frustrating run of injuries that led to a total of four surgeries in the past two years -- and limited him to six games in that span -- Kline is back for his fifth and final season of eligibility.

“It means a lot,” he said of his last go-round at Penn State. “It's something I'm gonna try not to take for granted. I've seen how quickly things can end. I'm just looking forward to being back out there.”

Kline has been back out on the practice field this spring, and it's easy to pick him out as the linebacker who has struggled with injury issues. His right shoulder is heavily taped for every session.

But in the parts of practices that have been open to the media, he has not been limited at all. He runs. He hits. He tackles.

“I've been doing everything and I'm feeling pretty good,” he reported.

Kline redshirted as a true freshman in 2011. Then he played in every game on special teams and as a backup in 2012, making 18 tackles. But his first shoulder surgery in the winter of 2013 caused him to miss spring practice.

He was back in action for the 2013 season, and played through continued shoulder pain in six games (including two starts). In his first start, he made a career-high eight tackles against Illinois. But his second start did not go nearly as well.

On the second play against Minnesota, Kline sustained a torn pectoral. He played the rest of the game with the injury, making four tackles, but then was shelved for the rest of the year. After the season, he had surgery on the pec and another surgery on the shoulder. That limited his action last spring.

Then last summer, he tore his left Achilles while working out. It meant another surgery. Instead of competing for a starting job in 2014, he was forced to miss the entire season.

“It's definitely a long, hard process,” Kline said. “It has been every time. Definitely learning to manage that is something new that I've had to deal with. But we've had … great doctors, great trainers. And really my teammates and friends on campus are the ones who got me through that -- and my support system at home. They took a lot of the pressure off me and made sure I could just focus on being healthy. They did a great job of being there to support me if I needed them.”

Indeed, even while missing so much on-field action, Kline remained very much involved with the day-to-day operations of the team. He sat in on position meetings. He was on the sideline for games. He has also been the president of Penn State's chapter of Uplifting Athletes, the organization that helps raise money and awareness for the fight against kidney cancer.

Throughout his rehab, coaches and teammates consistently pointed to Kline as a team leader. He said he was simply trying to help the people who were doing so much for him.

“I just try to be a good teammate to the guys,” he said. “Even though I'm not out on the field, I'm in the locker room and around the building, being there for the guys and making sure they know I'm there for them. And that's kind of a reciprocal relationship. Just doing that goes a long way.”

In a recent press conference, reporters took multiple angles to asking Kline what was essentially the same question: What is it like to be back on the field? And he was consistent with his answers, mentioning the joy of playing alongside his teammates each time.

“It's really fun to be back out there with the guys,” he said. “That was kind of the biggest thing I missed. It's just fun being out there, playing a little ball and being out there with my best friends running around and having fun.”

Later, he added, “It was fun. I missed it a lot. It had been a really long time, and to be able to get back out there and be running around again and stuff was a lot of fun.”

That, in turn, has allowed him to focus on having fun as opposed to worrying about further injury issues.

“When you go out there, you just worry about playing,” Kline said. “That's the best part, that you don't have to think about much. You can just go out there and react to what you see and just play football.”

When asked what position he was playing, Kline said the staff was moving the linebackers among the three positions. But at every open practice to date, Kline was manning the middle 'backer spot, and playing behind Nyeem Wartman and Gary Wooten.

Wherever he lands on the depth chart, it will not be a bit surprising if he is asked to contribute on special teams, as well.

“Frankenstein” has one season left. While it seems unlikely that he'll have a monster year, he intends to make the most of it.

“It's really important to me,” Kline said. “And it's important to me to be able to go out there and play, and be out there with the guys again. That's one of the biggest things for me, to be able to go out there and have fun and play a little ball.”

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