Kimberly Grad A.J. Klein Realizes NFL Dream, Drafted by Panthers

Published 04/27 2013 10:12PM

Updated 04/27 2013 10:48PM

A.J. Klein's wait was longer than he anticipated.

"I was thinking I was maybe going to be able to sneak into the third or early fourth round," Klein said at his home Saturday during day three of the NFL Draft.  But it didn't happen."

A former Kimberly High School linebacker that led his team to two WIAA Division 2 State Championships, ended up being selected 148th overall, in the 5th round by the Carolina Panthers.

"Phone call came first," said Klein who left the TV to go down to the basement to play some pool as day 3 of the draft dragged on.  "It actually came through my dad's phone.  He ran it down to me.  Just happy it was Carolina on the other side.  I can't wait to get there and make it my new home."

Klein was a three-year starter at linebacker and Co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.  He says the Panthers showed plenty of interest in him during the draft process.

"I talked to them at the East-West Shrine game," Klein said.  "I met with them prior to the Combine, and they were at the Pro Day as well.  I've had contact with them, over the last month, not so much as far as phone calls.  Obviously a team I was looking forward to, having kept in contact with them."

Klein was among the fastest at his position in the 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine, and his production on the field at Iowa State stood out as well.  He set an FBS record for linebackers by returning 4 interceptions for touchdowns during his career.  So why does he think he slipped into the 5th round?

"I think it's more of what teams were looking for needs-wise," Klein said.  "Everything has to kind of line up perfectly.  I was thinking I was maybe going to be able to sneak into the third or early fourth round, but it didn't happen."

Klein appeared to take his slide in stride, saying all he wanted was to be drafted.  He says he's already talked to Panthers GM Dave Gettleman, Head Coach Ron Rivera, and Linebackers Coach Warren Belin.

"They just gave me their congratulations and they are happy to have me and very excited for the future."

Klein is excited too.  He's headed to a defense that could be on the rise, featuring last year's first round pick and Defensive Rookie of the Year Luke Kuechly.

"I think it's a very good fit," Klein said.  "They're a very good defense, and players at the linebacker position.  They got Kuechly who they took last year, (Jon) Beason and there are some vets on that team that I can probably learn a lot of good things from."

The former Fox Valley standout knows he will have some fans for life, keeping a keen on every development in his career.

"I think it's awesome because I know I have that hometown support," Klein said. 

"That means the world to me just to know that I can come back to my hometown and even if they're not Carolina Panthers fans, I am sure that there's going to be a few Packer and Carolina Panther fans in the area.  I am very excited to see where this journey takes me and where I go."

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