John Kling was in his early teens when a growth spurt dictated what sport he would continue to pursue. Not many hockey goaltenders stand 6-foot-7. But for a football lineman height means leverage, and leverage is the name of that game.
So football became Kling’s sport of choice during his days at Depew High School. And all the while he kept one eye down the road, on UB, and wondered if he could play his way onto the radar of the coaching staff.
The scholarship offer came. Kling’s journey into Division I-A football commenced. And that journey took a colossal leap forward recently when a season-ending injury forced UB to shuffle its offensive line and make Kling the starter at left tackle. The results have been as they were before, with running back Branden Oliver finding room and quarterback Joe Licata receiving ample time to throw.
“This guy, I’m telling you, I’ve been real proud of him,” Bulls coach Jeff Quinn said of Kling after Saturday’s practice in the rain at UB Stadium.
“I was ready to go,” said Kling, a redshirt sophomore, “I’ve been there, waiting for a chance. I wanted it to be under better circumstances but I had to step in and grow up a lot real quick.”
Kling was called upon full-time when left guard Jasen Carlson suffered a season-ending leg fracture Oct. 19 against UMass. Andre Davis slid over from left tackle to guard, his original position on the offensive line. Kling took over for Davis, who he had been spelling at times this season. Instead of rotating in on occasion Kling became a fixture subject to increased demands.
“Before that I had been getting 15, 20 plays in a game. Kent State I had 85 plays,” he said. “So there’s definitely lot more conditioning involved. You’re going as hard as you can for eight seconds, then you get a break. But you’re going so hard for so long, conditioning aspect aside, a lot of it’s heart.”
The offensive line will get a strong test Tuesday night at UB Stadium against Ohio, a team that ranks second in the country in sacks.
“Their D-ends are quick,” Kling said, “Obviously we’re watching a lot of film on them.”
Playing for UB, starting at left tackle, it’s as Kling hoped it might someday be when he decided, “You don’t see too many 6-7 goaltenders.”
“It’s a dream come true,” he said, “I always wanted to play here. Even when I was little it was like: Buffalo, D-I, right down the road, all my friends and family get to watch me play. Obviously when I got the offer I was ecstatic.”
On its last two road trips, to Western Michigan and Kent State, UB played in stadiums adjacent to indoor football practice facilities. The Bulls don’t have that option. On Friday they loaded the buses and headed to the Buffalo Bills Field House. On Saturday, with the field house unavailable because of the Bills home game, they practiced in harsh conditions at UB Stadium.
“The Bills organization has been great to us,” Quinn said.
Linebacker Blake Bean is practicing again after missing the last three games with an undisclosed injury. He should be ready to go against Ohio. Defensive end Colby Way sat out the Kent State game and hasn’t practiced fully this week but did some sprint work on the sidelines Saturday and is close to returning. Running back Devin Campbell didn’t practice Saturday as a precaution but is expected to play against the Bobcats.