Scramblin’ Man : Quarterback Perry Klein Has Been Vilified for Switching Schools--But That Was Before the NFL Called
Sports agent Gary Wishard says that Perry Klein’s story, the rags-to-riches tale of a controversial quarterback, will make a best-seller someday.
An appropriate title might be “The Post Man Always Rings Twice.”
Klein, after all, had been knocking on doors for some time until he found a football program that allowed him to showcase his talent. It all came together last season at tiny C.W. Post in Brookville, N.Y., where Klein set a bushel of NCAA Division II passing records, caught the attention of NFL scouts and wound up being drafted in the fourth round by the Atlanta Falcons.
He was the third quarterback taken overall, after Tennessee’s Heath Shuler and Fresno State’s Trent Dilfer were among the top six picks.
It was an improbable turn of events for Klein, who had become better known for changing schools than throwing touchdown passes until finding his niche in the run-and-shoot offense at C.W. Post.
“It feels good to work hard and be successful,” Klein said by phone from Atlanta. “I’m not trying to gloat. I’ve had a bumpy road. I think it makes me appreciate everything a little more.”
The path appears to be getting smoother all the time for the 23-year-old Malibu native. He has been encouraged by his early meetings with Falcons Coach June Jones and quarterback coach Mouse Davis. He is now looking for a place to live in Atlanta. And on July 10, Klein will marry his girlfriend of three years, Cari Delson, a former volleyball player at Pepperdine and at Irvine High. After a brief honeymoon in Laguna Beach, Klein will report to camp with the Falcons on July 16.
“It’s all fitting together for Perry,” said Klein’s mother, Diana.
Less than two years ago, though, Klein’s football career was in disarray. He left UC Berkeley in the middle of the 1992 season after three frustrating years as a backup. He wasn’t sure what his next move would be.
A successful agent whose NFL clients include linebacker Ken Norton Jr. of the San Francisco 49ers and tight end Keith Jackson of the Miami Dolphins, Wishard was a friend of Klein’s father, Danny, a Malibu neighbor, when he met Perry for the first time in the summer of 1992.
New York Jets receiver Rob Moore, one of Wishard’s clients, was in town and wanted to work out with a quarterback. Although Wishard was a College Division All-America quarterback at C.W. Post in 1971, he knew Moore needed a younger, stronger arm to throw to him. Wishard called Klein, whose passing and athletic ability made an immediate impression on the agent.
“I could see right away he was one of the most talented quarterbacks I had ever seen,” Wishard said. “He just jumps out at you. I figured he would be playing for Cal that season, and I said, ‘Good luck.’ I was going to keep my eye on him as a potential client.”
When Klein left Cal six games into the 1992 season, he called Wishard, who has since become the player’s agent and is negotiating his contract.
“He was frustrated,” Wishard said. “Maybe (leaving Cal) was a mistake. I said, ‘Let’s turn a negative into a positive.’ ”
To avoid having Klein sit out a season, which he would have been obligated to do had he transferred to a Division I school, Wishard suggested that the quarterback transfer to a lower-division school.
He called C.W. Post Coach Tom Marshall, who was the offensive coordinator when Wishard played there.
“I had never heard of it,” Klein said of C.W. Post. “At that point, I just wanted to have an opportunity to play. It wasn’t like I was looking down on the school. I liked the idea that it was in New York. That was an exciting thing for me.”
Wishard said leaving the West Coast was the best thing for Klein, who had earned the nickname “Mr. Transfer” for his highly publicized school-hopping in high school. After enjoying a record-breaking junior season at Palisades High, Klein transferred to Carson for his senior season and helped the Colts win the 1988 City Section 4-A Division title.
After the football season, the Kleins gave up an apartment in Carson and Perry transferred to Santa Monica, where he finished his senior year. To many, the events portrayed Klein as an opportunist, a spoiled rich kid, who, with the help of his family, was making a mockery of poorly enforced transfer rules in his pursuit of a bigger, better deal. The press had a field day.
Looking back, Klein says his only regret is that he did not finish his senior year at Carson. “I always said that I never meant to hurt anyone, or take anything away from a school,” he said. “A lot was written at the time, and I took a lot of heat. To go through that when I was young was tough. But I’ve used it to fuel my fire.
“When things didn’t go right for me at Cal, a lot of people were probably saying, ‘Here he goes again.’ ”
The way Wishard saw it, Klein was caught in the middle of two movements at Cal. As a freshman and sophomore, he played behind an older, more experienced and more popular quarterback in Mike Pawlawski. When Pawlawski left, and the starting job appeared to be Klein’s by seniority, new Coach Keith Gilbertson went with a younger quarterback, sophomore Dave Barr.
Klein may have undermined his junior season when he walked out of spring practice. He returned two days later and apologized to the team, but the damage was already done. Klein got off to a bad start with a new coach and lost his teammates’ respect.
Unable to unseat Barr, Klein left Cal after a particularly humiliating experience. Playing against USC before family and friends at the Coliseum, Klein got in for one play, was blindsided and lost a fumble.
The 6-foot-3 Klein committed himself to weightlifting after leaving Cal and bulked up to his present weight of 210 pounds. Faster and stronger, he went out and rewrote virtually all of C.W. Post’s passing records.
By the end of the 1993 season, Klein had passed for 3,757 yards and accounted for 4,052 yards in total offense, both Division II records.
No one could dispute the numbers Klein put up, but some questioned the competition he was facing. This was, after all, Division II football.
Wishard, though, never had any doubts that Klein was NFL material. He rattled off a long list of quarterbacks who excelled in the NFL after playing at small colleges--Terry Bradshaw, Ken Anderson, Dan Pastorini.
Because the Falcons use a run-and-shoot offense, their interest in Klein was understandable. He was the 111th player selected in the draft.
“I was real excited because I worked so hard for it,” Klein said.
So, does Klein have anything to say to those who doubted and criticized him in the past? A last laugh, so to speak?
“No, that’s not what this is all about,” he said. “It’s about Perry Klein and me being happy. It doesn’t make me happy to make other people look bad. I don’t feel that way.
“But it’s nice to overcome odds.”