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A star (wasn't born) on Vikings' offensive line

Years of hard work, effort brought success to Adam Kleffner
by: COURTESY OF PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY 
Adam Kleffner, offensive guard from Jesuit High, has helped the Portland State Vikings claim a share of the Big Sky Conference lead going into Saturday’s showdown at home against Montana State.

Adam Kleffner was a star at Jesuit High. As a three-year starting center, he made the all-Metro League team and helped the Crusaders win the 2005 and 2006 state championship.

When he came to Portland State, though, Kleffner learned that high school and college football are completely different breeds of gridiron cat.

'Going from starting in high school and to the scout team (at PSU), getting your butt kicked by older guys, it's pretty humbling,' Kleffner says. 'It teaches you, at least for a guy like me, how much hard work you need from high school to college to really improve - if you want to play and make an impact.

'You couldn't take an off day,' Kleffner recalls of his early days at Portland State. 'You couldn't rest. Naturally, I wasn't good enough. I had to work hard at it.'

Kleffner did just that.

Last year, he made his way into the starting lineup at center. This year, he is starting at guard, where he has become perhaps the Vikings' most dominating offensive lineman.

'If there's ever a rags-to-riches story, or a story of a guy who's worked himself from nothing to become something … he's taken his opportunity to play college football very seriously,' Vikings offensive line coach Brad Davis says. 'He's our guy. He's our leader. When chips are falling against us, he's the guy everybody looks to to pick us up and get us back on track.'

The Vikings (3-1) have their biggest game in years coming up on Saturday. They will play host to Montana State; kickoff is 1 p.m. at Jeld-Wen Field. PSU and MSU lead the Big Sky Conference with 2-0 records.

It will certainly be the biggest game in the college career of Kleffner, a 6-3, 310-pound senior who was a quarterback in recess football before moving to the offensive line for organized ball in third grade.

'In football and in life I've bought into thinking that it does all start up front,' he says. 'A lot of discipline and hard work, more than talent and skill, makes you a good player on the O-line. Not everyone is going to be the biggest, strongest, fastest guy. But you can be the hardest-working guy and put in the most effort in a game and a practice. That's something no one can take away from you -playing 100 percent and playing with all your heart.'

Vikings quarterback Connor Kavanaugh says he feels safe in the pocket with Kleffner blocking for him. 'You know he's going to go balls to the wall for you.' Kavanaugh says.

Kleffner and Kavanaugh, who were rivals when the latter played for Lincoln, have become close friends, living together in an off-campus house. And Kavanaugh makes sure that he gives Kleffner reasons to want to block for him.

'Whenever I have leftover Easter candy, or candy from Christmas or Halloween, I put it out on our coffee table,' Kavanaugh says. 'I know the next day I'll wake up and it'll all be gone. I know he'll be the monster that eats it.'

'Monster' is one way to describe Kleffner, but he would be the monster with a good heart. He has let his hair down, literally, going from short to long. And once his locks reach 10 inches in a ponytail, Kleffner plans to donate them to Locks of Love, an organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children suffering from long-term medical hair loss.

'I know a friend from high school that did it, so I figured that if I grow it out I might as well donate it to somebody,' Kleffner says. '(Long hair) is all right. Girls love it.'

Kleffner has made an unselfish transition from center to guard.

'He's been one of our best guys,' Davis says. 'Against TCU, he had the most knockdowns on our unit, and really gave them hell. I guarantee he earned those guys' respect as a football player.'

Kleffner has all but decided that this will be his last year playing football. After the 2011 season, he hopes to get into coaching college football while continuing his education.

'I'm going to go on to different things. It's kind of humbling,' he says. 'But you've got to stay focused. It's not about it being the last. It's about focusing on the season and finishing the season as a good one.'