BLOOMINGTON — If anyone sees Connor Klein nibbling on a sideline snack during an Illinois Wesleyan football game, don’t think he is getting away with anything.
Klein has IWU coach Norm Eash’s blessing.
The sophomore middle linebacker has Type 1 diabetes and occasionally might need something to eat or drink to get his blood sugar level up. Klein was diagnosed in the seventh grade, but it hasn’t affected his play.
Klein’s first IWU start last Saturday was a memorable one. He made six tackles, including five solos, and returned an interception 32 yards that set up a touchdown to earn College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin Defensive Player of the Week honors as the Titans rolled to an opening 49-13 victory over Aurora.
Eash said Klein is good at communicating to coaches during games or practice if he needs to do something to make sure he is fine. Klein takes off his insulin pump while playing and practicing.
“Usually it’s pretty much under control and I don’t need to do much about it,” said Klein.
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler also suffers from Type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks cells in the pancreas which make insulin, a hormone that controls a person’s blood sugar.
Klein didn’t grow up as a linebacker. He was a defensive end at Maine South High School in Park Ridge until being switched to linebacker in the middle of his senior season after a linebacker went down.
Eash said Klein had several outstanding games in the Class 8A playoffs in 2010 that caught IWU’s attention.
Last year, Klein learned what it takes to be a college linebacker behind the Titan senior trio of Ryan Gresko, Ben Houk and Michael Whittington.
“They took all of us under their wing and taught all the linebackers a lot, just to play aggressive and stay confident,” said Klein.
The 6-foot-2, 208-pound Klein said the last year-and-a-half “was a big transition for me,” but feels that is now behind him. In fact, playing linebacker has become more natural to him than being at defensive end.
“He has great instincts when to run through (blocks) and when not to run through,” said Eash. “He’s a natural hitter. He has high impact level for a linebacker.”
Klein has plenty of support at home, too. His mother, Kathy Klein, is a nurse who specializes in diabetic care after her son was diagnosed seven years ago.
Injury update: Junior tailback T.J. Stinde, who rushed for 135 yards and scored three touchdowns against Aurora, didn’t practice Tuesday after spraining his left ankle in the third quarter. Stinde expects to play in Saturday’s 1 p.m. home game against Alma at Tucci Stadium.
“It’s nothing major and nothing to worry about,” said Stinde, who is coming off right knee surgery.
Senior wide receiver Brett Robinson will miss his second straight game because of a concussion suffered during an Aug. 24 scrimmage against Benedictine. Robinson fell backwards and hit his head on the turf.
Senior tailbacks Cam Blossom (ankle) and Cam Allen (hamstring) will play this week after missing the opener, as will junior linebacker Ryan Penders (hamstring).
Bolden gets some rest: Eash has found a way to get all-everything sophomore Tyrell Bolden a bit of a breather.
Bolden, a starting cornerback and the Titans’ backup quarterback, will not be returning kickoffs anymore. He will remain as the punt returner. Bolden practiced with the offense Tuesday. He will practice with the defense the rest of the week, but still attends all the quarterback meetings.
“He’s our change-of-pace quarterback. I wouldn’t label him just as No. 2,” said Eash. “When we bring him in you’ve got to defend him.”