Tuesday, December 20, 2011
December 18, 2011
By JOEL BADZINSKI
Karl Klug is starting to feel the pressure.
Even some folks back home in Caledonia are making requests.
Klug doesn’t see it happening.
“No one wants to see me dance,” Klug said.
Klug, a Caledonia native in his rookie season for the Tennessee Titans, is happy to deliver sacks. Heading into today’s game at Indianapolis he has six, which leads the team and is fourth among NFL defensive tackles.
However, don’t expect him to flex his biceps, do the Charleston or prance for the cameras after his quarterback hits. It’s simply not in his football DNA.
“Be humble and work your (butt) off,” Klug said. “Make sure you’re coming to work every day and don’t be a distraction.”
That attitude helped Klug go from a 207-pound freshman at the University of Iowa to a two-time All-Big Ten defensive lineman and NFL prospect. The Titans selected him in the fifth round of the draft his past April.
Klug, at 6-feet-3, 275 pounds, still has the “undersized” label in the NFL. His 19 tackles, six sacks and four passes knocked down help tell the story of his physical ability and mental determination to overcome any negative stereotype.
“No. 1 is his work habits,” Titans defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said. “No. 2 is he understands the leverage of playing inside and the leverage of holding up big guys and having hand-to-hand combat in there.”
Klug spent the summer in Iowa City working out and worrying about the NFL lockout.
When that got resolved, he began worrying about making the team.
“What if I got cut the first day?” he said.
Klug didn’t, of course, and got to live his dream of playing in the NFL. The Titans hosted the Minnesota Vikings in their first preseason game on Aug. 13, which only added to the big dose of adrenaline rushing through Klug’s body, since he grew up a Vikings fan.
There hasn’t been a particular “welcome to the NFL, rookie”-type moment.
“I’ve gotten put on the ground plenty of times,” Klug said.
And he’s taken his share of opponents down. Klug had four tackles in his first NFL regular-season game on Sept. 11 at Jacksonville. His first sack came a week later against Baltimore and quarterback Joe Flacco.
Klug has played in all 13 games with one start and is working behind Jurrell Casey, a rookie from USC. The Titans have recently been using Klug as a rusher in nickel formations, which yielded two sacks Dec. 12 against New Orleans.
“The talent here is pretty insane,” Klug said. “But it’s the same feeling from high school to college and from college to here. I thought these guys were gods and they never make mistakes. They are talented, but at the end of the day they still are human.”
Klug has single-handedly converted Caledonia into a Titans town, not to mention making the bar at Ma Cal Grove Country Club the local hotspot on Sundays.
“A lot of people are going out there, family and friends,” said former Caledonia football coach Carl Fruechte. “They’ve got the Titans on NFL Ticket and we have a couple of Gatorades and watch Karl.
“His jersey is on every kid in town. There’s a lot of excitement and as a coach I’m really proud of his work ethic. I just can’t say enough.”
Karl and his twin brother, Kevin, played for Fruechte as Caledonia became a small-school powerhouse in the mid-2000s. The Warriors lost to Eden-Valley-Watkins 21-7 in the 2005 MSHSL Class AA state title game when the Klugs were seniors.
“It’s funny, because (former teammate) Sam Gerardy called about a week ago and we brought that up,” Klug said. “It’s frustrating looking back at it, but that was a long time ago and you’ve got to move on.”
Fruechte said he knew he had a special player on his hands during Klug’s junior season. Klug had a badly sprained left ankle and was cleared to play with permission from his parents.
“The Kasson-Mantorville coaches talk about it to this day,”Fruechte said. “He was playing on one leg and getting double-teamed the whole game and it didn’t matter. We still had a chance to win it. You thought, ‘OK, this dude is special.’”