The videotape rolls, and Dan Klecko is transported to 1981, the
year he was born. Sitting in his tiny dorm room at Temple, Klecko
watches the tape with the same intensity as someone staring at a
five-alarm fire. There on the dusty television screen is the
grainy image of his father, Joe, playing defensive end for the
New York Jets in a game against the Houston Oilers. On one play
Joe knifes into the backfield and sticks running back Earl
Campbell for a loss. On another he flattens quarterback Ken
Stabler. For the rest of the game Joe makes play after play, a
visual primer on how to play the position. For as long as Dan can
remember, he has been studying this tape, analyzing his father's
moves and memorizing them. "I can't believe my dad was an NFL
player," says Dan, a senior defensive end. "We walk the same, use
the same moves, have the same tendencies--except he's better."
At 6 feet, 276 pounds--two inches shorter and 21 pounds heavier
than Joe was in his senior year at Temple--Dan is one of the
better defensive linemen in the nation. Despite playing for a
program that has won only 11 of 38 games during his career and
regularly facing double teams, Dan last season had 19 1/2
tackles for losses (the 11th most in the nation) and 27
quarterback hurries. The reason he's such a force is that his
technique is as good as a seasoned NFL player's. "He's
polished," Temple coach Bobby Wallace says of Klecko, who had
seven tackles in the Owls' 35-22 loss to Cincinnati last
Saturday. "He's a carbon copy of his dad."
Ever since Dan started playing organized football at 14, Joe has
acted as his personal coach. When Dan played at Marlboro High in
Colts Neck, N.J., Joe would sit in the stands and send
instructions to him using hand signals. After practices Joe would
often show up and give Dan one-on-one tutorials. "I'd teach him a
move, I'd use it on him, and then I'd have him do it on me," says
Joe, who was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 1981, when
he had 20 1/2 sacks. "He was a quick learner."
Dan wanted to attend Syracuse, but the Orangemen, like most of
the big schools, considered him too small. But Temple, where Joe
was an honorable mention All-America, signed him without
hesitation, and by his third practice Dan had established himself
with his new teammates. Wallace had instructed his players to run
at half speed on a kickoff drill, but as Dan jogged down the
field, he was blindsided by defensive tackle Russell Newman, who
was going all-out. On the next kickoff Dan ran down the field,
and this time he delivered a blow to Newman that Wallace calls
the hardest hit he's seen in his 26-year coaching career.
"Everyone on our team knew about Danny after that hit," says
October 6, 2002
Klecko started nine games as a freshman and has been a fixture in
the lineup since. While he's excelled in college, pro scouts are
skeptical about him, largely because of his size. "Klecko is a
smart, hard-playing guy, but he would be the shortest lineman in
the NFL," says one scout. "He can make it, but he needs to bulk
For Dan, one of the best parts about playing at Temple is that
the Philadelphia campus is only a 70-minute drive from his
parents' home on the Jersey shore. After every home game the
Klecko clan--Joe and Deborah, married 27 years, have four other
children--throws a tailgate party in the stadium parking lot.
While sitting on lawn chairs and eating fried chicken, Joe and
Dan will discuss the game. "Dad lets me know what I need to
improve on," says Dan. "Without his criticism, no way would I be
the player I am today."
Under the Radar
In addition to Klecko, here are five other Division I-A standouts
who are overlooked because they play on poor teams.
POS. PLAYER CLASS SCHOOL
QB Joshua Cribbs Soph. Kent St.
Through five games he was the sixth-leading rusher in the
nation, with 699 yards.
WR Kevin Curtis Sr. Utah St.
After topping all receivers with 100 catches in 2001, Curtis
had 34 receptions for 515 yards through five games in '02.
RB Dwone Hicks Sr. Mid. Tenn. St.
Hicks, who was second in the nation in scoring (13.5 points
per game) in '01, has a school-record 52 career TDs.
RB Mewelde Moore Jr. Tulane
He's on pace to rush for more than 1,250 yards and catch more
than 60 passes for the second year in a row, the only Division
I-A player ever to do so.
TE L.J. Smith Sr. Rutgers
Second-team All-Big East last season, he caught seven passes for
63 yards in a 35-14 loss to Tennessee last Saturday.