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Klein Says He Is No Passing Fancy : Colleges: Former state record holder for passing yardage in a season remains optimistic that he will become California's starting quarterback.

August 27, 1992|VITTORIO TAFUR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PACIFIC PALISADES — The brashness of youth is still there. He is, after all, only 21. Perry Klein will still tell you what he's thinking, do what he wants and not think about the consequences.

And he is still very confident, if not cocky. The former Palisades and Carson High player, now battling for the starting quarterback job at Cal, would probably not say that "he will take this team to two Rose Bowls," as he did two years ago as a freshman. But he's thinking it.

The only real difference between the Perry Klein who came to Cal as the state's all-time high school passing leader three years ago and the junior who entered fall camp Aug. 13 as the No. 2 quarterback is that he is more relaxed now. He is no longer in a hurry to impress, whether it be on the field or in conversation. Last spring, after he left spring practice for two days without telling anyone, didn't do much for his popularity on the team, but the time away did the trick for Klein. He says he can't remember the last time he had this much fun playing football.

"In the past, I came (to camp) tight and worried about where I stood on the depth chart," he said. "Not this year. This is my best camp since I've been here."

Klein shrugs off any talk of pressure, which is strange. There should be quite a bit. Because for the teen-ager many dubbed "Mr. Transfer" after he switched high schools to be on a better football team, for the kid who dreamed of being an NFL quarterback since he could grip a ball, this is essentially his last chance.

When Mack Travis talks, people listen. The 6-foot-2, 285-pound senior defensive tackle is owner of a two-inch scowl and one of the team captains. To him, the quarterback battle between Klein and the current No. 1, sophomore Dave Barr, is merely a formality.

"Most of the guys think Dave will be the starter," Travis said. "He's worked hard and deserves it. You gotta wonder if a guy walks out and leaves the team during spring practice, what's going to happen when it's fourth (down) and inches."

Said Klein: "I'm going to have to work to get my teammates' respect back."

Earning respect from teammates has always been a problem for Klein. Cal teammates were aware of his nickname of "Mr. Transfer" before he arrived.

"Guys were always giving me a hard time, asking me what high school I went to," said Klein, who ate alone more than once at his first fall camp. One offensive lineman said then that he was "sure (Klein) would transfer out of Cal once things got tough."

That first year he red-shirted behind starter Troy Taylor (now of the New York Jets) and Mike Pawlawski. With the departure of Taylor, it was thought Klein would win the quarterback job in 1990 over Pawlawski, a rough-around-the-edges junior who had played on special teams the year before. Klein agreed and started talking about Rose Bowls, something that angered Pawlawski and started an entertaining quarterback controversy in which neither quarterback tried very hard to hide a dislike for the other.

Problem No. 1: Pawlawski, whose Jim McMahon-type approach to the game included head-butting offensive lineman and taking on tacklers, was the most popular guy on the team.

Problem No. 2: Pawlawski beat out Klein for the job.

Klein took being named the backup in stride, saying the decision "wasn't set in stone." It might as well have been. Pawlawski led the Bears to a 7-4-1 record and the Copper Bowl in 1990 and a 10-2 record and the Citrus Bowl last season. He was drafted in the eighth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leaving Coach Keith Gilbertson with his current two choices.

"It was hard for me to watch from the sidelines when I felt I could contribute," said Klein, who threw a total of 22 passes and completed eight the past two years. "But Mike did a great job."

It appeared that Klein would have the same advantage this year that Pawlawski had two years ago, the experience gained from going through drills as a No. 2 quarterback and from being prepared to enter a game at any time. But that advantage vanished when Coach Bruce Snyder abruptly left Cal for Arizona State after the Citrus Bowl. With Snyder went the offensive system and whatever edge Klein had over Barr.

"Here he thinks he's going to inherit things because of his experience . . . and then he's not," offensive coordinator Mike Sheppard said.

Klein and Barr started spring practice even, although Klein says he would be No. 1 now if nothing had happened. What exactly did happen no one was quite sure about.

"I went to a film session one morning and he wasn't there," Sheppard said.

That was April 22. Klein also missed a team practice the next day before he called a coach and told him that he was at his parents' home in Malibu.

"Things just got out of hand a little too fast," Klein said. "I was having problems with school, I was having problems with my girlfriend, I was having problems with the new offense . . . I had to get away for a couple of days and straighten things out."

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