Klaproth wastes little time wowing

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Philip Klaproth hoped to earn a spot on special teams during his freshman season of college football.

Talk about exceeding expectations in a big way.

Klaproth, who played for Poplar Bluff High School last year, has been one of Southeast Missouri State's starting outside linebackers since the second game of the season.

"I wasn't expecting to start at all," Klaproth said following Tuesday's practice. "I was hoping to maybe get on special teams."

At one point, Klaproth's expectations weren't even that lofty.

"Coming into fall camp, they [Southeast coaches] told me I'd probably redshirt," Klaproth said.

From potential redshirt to starting linebacker and third-leading tackler on the Redhawks.

No wonder Klaproth's eyes lit up when he talked about his whirlwind rookie campaign.

"It's real exciting to be starting my freshman year," he said.

While Southeast coach Tony Samuel admits to being somewhat surprised by Klaproth's production, Samuel said he expected Klaproth to be an early contributor once the staff got to see him practice.

"He's just a football player. That's a good way to describe him," Samuel said. "This kid works at it. He's a student of the game. He can play."

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Klaproth has 42 tackles in seven games for the Redhawks (2-5, 0-3 Ohio Valley Conference).

Among Southeast tacklers, Klaproth trails only senior middle linebacker Nick Stauffer, whose 76 tackles rank third in the OVC and 15th nationally, and senior safety Vincent Anderson (45 stops).

"What he's doing for a freshman is extremely impressive," Samuel said. "I don't say he came out of nowhere. He had a great high school career.

"But I didn't expect him to do this well."

Klaproth came off the bench in Southeast's season opener. He made an impact with six tackles as the Redhawks beat Division II Southwest Baptist in overtime.

The following week, at Division I-A Missouri -- ranked sixth nationally at the time -- Klaproth earned his first start.

"It was pretty exciting and a little intimidating, playing the No. 6 team in the nation," Klaproth said. "At first I was kind of overwhelmed. But once the game started, it was like playing against anybody."

Southeast lost 52-3, but Klaproth held up well with eight tackles. He has started every contest since the Missouri game.

Klaproth had his best statistical performance Saturday, making 12 tackles as the Redhawks narrowly missed upsetting perennial OVC power Eastern Illinois. The Panthers held on for a 24-21 home win.

Stauffer, who led the Redhawks with 13 tackles against Eastern Illinois, has been impressed with Klaproth's play.

"Philip has come a long, long way. He's been great so far," Stauffer said. "He's still a young pup, but he's learned a lot already."

Klaproth said some of Southeast's veteran linebackers, led by Stauffer, have helped ease his transition to college football.

"They've helped me a lot," Klaproth said. "Just staying positive, not getting my head down when I screw up."

Not that Klaproth has screwed up all that much -- every freshman is going to have growing pains -- but Samuel said those miscues aren't coming as frequently these days.

"The things that were getting him beat early in the season, he's gotten better at," Samuel said.

Klaproth nodded when it was mentioned that Samuel considers him to be a student of the game.

"I try to study as much as I can, learn as much as I can," he said. "I'm so far behind the older players."

Klaproth's rapid progress is somewhat surprising since he didn't play linebacker until his junior year of high school.

"I played defensive line until midway through my junior year," he said. "But once I started playing there [linebacker], it seemed to come pretty natural."

Like most young players, Klaproth said the increased speed and strength of college players has been his biggest adjustment.

"It's a big transition from high school," he said. "The speed of the game is a lot quicker, it's a lot more physical."

Klaproth said he also was recruited by Northwest Missouri State -- among the nation's premier Division II programs -- but he never really considered any school other than Southeast.

Both his parents attended Southeast -- his mother graduated from there while his father went on to earn a degree at Missouri-Rolla -- while his grandparents on his mother's side also graduated from Southeast.

"I mainly focused on going here," he said. "Being only about an hour and a half from home, a lot of family and friends come to all the home games. My parents have been to every game, even Jacksonville State."

Klaproth, who said he has not yet decided on a major although he's thought about business, already knows what he needs to improve on for his football future.

"Comprehension of the game, and physically, my size and speed," he said.

Having experienced more personal success sooner than he ever envisioned will be a big motivation, Klaproth said.

"It makes me want to work that much harder to get better every year," he said.

Of course, there still is plenty of this season to play. Southeast has five games left, starting with Saturday's homecoming contest against OVC leader Tennessee State (6-1, 3-0), the nation's 19th-ranked Division I-AA team.

While Southeast appears headed for its sixth straight losing season -- the program has had just two winning records since moving up from Division II in 1991 -- Klaproth believes better things lie ahead.

Klaproth points to the several true freshmen who have played significant roles -- led by himself, the only full-time freshman starter -- and other rookies waiting in the wings.

"The new freshman class, I think we can help turn it around, start getting some winning seasons," he said.

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