Friday Q&A: Iowa State LB A.J. Klein

A.J. Klein is feeling a little lost these days. His partner in crime, Jake Knott, is out for the season with a shoulder injury, but Iowa State's season still has a lot on the table.

Knott and Klein have been one of the Big 12's best linebacking duos for the past three seasons, and the reigning co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year sat down with ESPN.com this week to talk about Knott and the Cyclones' future.

Author's note: Portions of this interview were edited for length.

What has it been like to be around Jake these last couple weeks as he deals with his injury?

AK: It's tough seeing him. He's had some ups and downs with his emotions, but I'm trying to be a person that's there to support him. It's tough, because it's hard to say something to a guy that's had to go through what he did. It's unfortunate, but he's honestly picked up and he has a very positive outlook about what's going to happen over his recovery and what he's looking forward to in the future. It'd be safe to say he's really more upbeat now than he was. He realizes he has a great future ahead of him.

He knew that Baylor win was going to be his last game. How would you describe the locker room afterward?

AK: It was pretty emotional. Coach [Paul] Rhoads said a few words after the game and me and him chatted a little bit afterward. He was emotional just because he finally came to the realization that was his last game. He was just happy to end his senior season and collegiate career with a win. I know that meant the world to him and playing one more game out in front of our home crowd.

What was coach Rhoads' message to the team after the game?

AK: He just brought up Jake and said how he's a selfless person. He really does give everything he has to this football team and he's a prime example of what it means to be an Iowa State football player. He's been exemplary of our traits and our code of conduct of what we're looking for over the past four years. He's just a great role model for the young guys and deserves to be recognized.

How does your job change now, moving forward?

AK: Besides me playing a different position (Will linebacker), my job doesn't change at all. I still have to be a leader on the field like I always have been, adjust to my new position and play to the best of my ability. It's different, but at the same time I've been in this program and this defense for four years now. I know the defense, I know everything that has to go along with the Will linebacker position. It's just finding that comfort level. It'll come. Last week was a little tough against OU. We had many opportunities to make plays, but at the same time, doing my job, I did my job well. Making plays will come with being more comfortable at the position and being able to react and play faster.

How would you assess your play coming back from the Defensive Player of the Year Award last year?

AK: I feel like I've been playing very well. You might not see -- from my standpoint, and from talking to coaches about everything that's happened this year -- I've said I've been playing a high level of football and I think people understand that. Going forward, I can only try to raise my level of play. I'm not satisfied one bit with last year or anything that happened in the past. I have new goals to strive for, but I feel like I've been playing football. I just have to continue to play good defense and when plays come my way, I have to be able to make them. I think I've done that. If plays are away from me or if I have to box a guy away from the play for my team, that's what I'm going to do. I don't look for as much personal achievement. I'm looking to help my team win and I feel like I've done a good job of that.

What would it mean for Iowa State to get to another bowl game, the third one in four years?

AK: It's big. We're not looking just to be a six-win team. We're looking to win out the rest of the year just like every other team in the conference is. It's a very competitive conference and we let a couple close games early in the season slip away from us, so looking forward to the next three games, our mind isn't on the number six. Our goals are higher than that. This team and what we've done this year so far, I feel like we've been playing great football and to get that sixth win would be big. I think we are a bowl team. We are a talented team, so to get that sixth win and move on from that and get to seven and eight wins this year would bring obviously a lot of excitement around the program, especially with all the new facilities going up around here. We'd be able to utilize them very early, just moving in. It'll be a very exciting time just like any other team that gets to go to a bowl game.