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Mixing Spikes and Cleats : Jim Klein of Pacific Palisades to Play Volleyball, Football at Stanford

Times Staff Writer

Very few athletes have done it. Manu Tuiasosopo wanted to give it a go and was advised not to. The last guy to pull it off, UCLA’s Bill Pearlman, did it in the mid-'60s, though not spectacularly. Jim Klein thinks he can do it--and well.

Klein, a Pacific Palisades resident and graduate of Loyola High School, will begin his attempt this fall to do what virtually no college athlete has done: play a contributing, maybe even starring, role on volleyball and football squads.

“I think Jimmy is one of the top athletes in the country coming out of high school,” said Dennis Green, Stanford University’s head football mentor and one of two coaches Klein will report to during his four years in Palo Alto. “He has all the athletic tools you’re looking for and he’s a tremendous worker.”

Klein will have to manage his time and energy to play both sports, however. He received a small sample this week of the demands of engaging in two sports simultaneously. He had to drop out of Friday night’s Shrine All-Star football game at the Rose Bowl. The reason? He’s one of only a dozen high school volleyball players invited to participate in the U.S. Olympic Festival this month at Norman, Okla.

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The habits that pushed Klein to excel in sports also pushed him to expand. His quick feet and aggressive style on the football field fit into his volleyball game nicely, and he carries his 37-inch vertical leap and exceptional body control from above the volleyball net to under opponents chins as a bruising linebacker.

“I just want to take both sports as far as I can,” says Klein, whose 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame is ideally suited for either outside hitter, his volleyball position, or defensive back, where Green plans to use him in football.

The modern era of the two-sport athlete, ushered in eye-openingly by a fellow named Bo who diddles in pro football and baseball, is gaining steam.

The baseball-football combination is most common, though Michael Jordan has few doubters that when his NBA career is over he’ll win money on the pro golf tour, and a big football player named Tony Mandarich wants to be, and seems to be, a potential pro fighter.

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But there are no standouts in the college volleyball/football double.

“That’s because the two require the use of vastly different muscles. You need a big upper body (for volleyball) because you’re always blocking balls and diving onto the floor. But bulk, in relation to volleyball, is not all that good,” said Al Scates, UCLA’s volleyball coach and runner-up in the race for Klein’s volleyball services.

Bulk, however, is exactly what Klein intends to add once he gets situated within Stanford’s athletic system. He wants to pack on 15 pounds of muscle, to add ferocity for his projected strong safety spot on the football field.

“I love those big safeties,” Klein says, mentioning hulking Cincinnati Bengal back David Fulcher as one of those admired. “They’re like linemen running around in the defensive backfield.”

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Scates doubts that Klein will become too massive for the volleyball court and that his quickness will probably remain intact with a few added pounds. But Tuiasosopo, a massive UCLA defensive tackle and accomplished beach volleyball player, was trying, says Scates, to lug football pounds onto volleyball’s courts.

“He would have had to lose some weight to play for me,” said Scates, who has guided the Bruins to several national volleyball titles. “He was very explosive and very quick, but he was 30 pounds overweight. He wasn’t willing to lose that weight because he knew he was going to play pro football and would need it.”

Klein, not as naturally big as Tuiasosopo, will have no such problem. Besides, he says, “I can afford to get a little bigger.”

If heredity lends a small nudge, Klein will have plenty of growth spurts in his future. His dad, former L.A. Ram and San Diego Charger tight end Bob Klein, played pro ball at 6-feet-5 and 245 pounds.

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“I remember seeing him (Bob Klein) play volleyball, soccer, lacrosse, football, you name it,” says Scates, who watched Klein play football for USC and just about all other sports for leisure and competition.

Says Jim Klein: “As kids we played everything that was possible: tennis, soccer, golf, basketball, football, you name it.”

The interest rubbed off not only on Jim but on older sister Kristin, who was the PAC-10’s Freshman of the Year in volleyball at Stanford last year.

“I asked her about me coming there to go to school, and she said she loved it (the idea),” says Jim, who adds that his sister’s presence carried a fair amount of weight in his choice to attend Stanford.

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“Actually,” he said, “the only schools we considered were USC, UCLA and Stanford, because of the combination of sports I wanted to play.”

The choice of schools may have been few, but the three universities didn’t have any problems returning Klein’s interest. One of the reasons was his immense talent. Another was the chance to get a “free” volleyball player--and a good one.

“We don’t usually recruit (volleyball) players who are highly regarded as football players, because football offers so many more scholarships and the players are likely to accept a football offer,” said Scates, who knew that the Bruin football coaches wanted to offer Klein a scholarship.

He also knew that Klein was set on playing volleyball in addition to football. Thus, Scates would have had a sought-after volleyball player who already has a scholarship. Instead, Stanford volleyball Coach Fred Sturm, courtesy of Stanford’s football offer, will receive Klein’s participation with the team without giving up a scholarship.

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The kind of flexibility Klein offers also can cause problems for coaches. “We feel he has the potential to be a dominant strong or free safety,” said Green. “The problem with that is, I think he could be a darn good tight end.”

Before Klein can be labeled as the wrench that fits all bolts, his basketball background needs to be checked out. Naturally, he played on Loyola’s varsity.

“I just went in to get rebounds and push people around a little bit. I was in there to take up space, I guess,” says Klein.

So he was sort of a Bill Laimbeer with a vertical jump? “Yeah,” he says with a laugh. “I kind of was. I remember I broke two people’s noses. I guess I was rough.”

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Luckily for noses everywhere, that foray is over. Now Klein is looking to another bridge, the one linking football and volleyball. No one can recall anyone who did both successfully in college. Should Jim Klein do it, surely he’ll be remembered.


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