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Scramblin' Man : Quarterback Perry Klein Has Been Vilified for Switching Schools--But That Was Before the NFL Called

June 30, 1994|ROB FERNAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

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.

Enter Wishard.

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.' "

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