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Legend By Accident
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By Wendell Barnhouse
Big 12 Sports.com Correspondent

The Big 12 Conference's public service announcement regarding its partnership with Special Olympics suggests that when life throws you a curve ball, swing for the fences.

Joel Klatt's dreams of a baseball career ended with too many bus rides and too many 0-for-4s. After two years in the minor-leagues, a home run swing ended up with a walk on chance at Colorado. Four years later, he was one of the school's most successful quarterbacks.

A native of Arvada, Colo, the 26-year-old Klatt was selected as the Buffaloes' Big 12 Legend. He will be honored along with the other 11 Legends the weekend of the Dr. Pepper Football Championship game in Kansas City Dec. 5-6.

"With all the great players that have played at Colorado, I was humbled to be selected as the school's legend," Klatt said. "I grew up watching Colorado. I became a walk on trying to find a way to better my life and get a college degree."

Klatt signed with the San Diego Padres out of high school in 2001. His contract included a signing bonus plus the Padres would pay for his college education.

"I had every intention to be a professional baseball player," he said. "But that was easier said than done. I wasn't mature enough as a player or as a man to be on my own. The level of high school baseball in Colorado wasn't that high and I had never dealt with failure. Baseball is a failure sport."

Ironically, Klatt's inability to succeed in baseball set him up for his chance at football.

Klatt had played high school football and had grown up loving the sport (his father was his high school coach). With his college education paid for, he went seeking a place to play football. The search took him to Shawn Watson, who at the time was Colorado's offensive coordinator and is now at Nebraska in the same capacity.

"I was looking for schools that were good to walk ons," Klatt said. "I was looking for a Division II or Division III school."

Klatt was shocked when Watson suggested that Klatt should walk on with the Buffaloes.

It didn't take long for Klatt, who ran an option offense while in high school, to make an impression.

"He threw the ball more in our first practice than he did his entire high school career," said Gary Barnett, who was Colorado's coach during Klatt's time with the Buffaloes. "When he was on campus that first summer, throwing with the players during workouts, they all told me how much they respected him. He was a leader."

In 2003 as a sophomore, Klatt made his first start against Colorado State. It was a memorable debut. He completed 21-of-34 passes for 402 yards and four touchdowns in the Buffaloes' 42-35 victory.

Klatt started 34 games for the Buffaloes and is the school's career leader in passing yards (7,375), touchdown passes (44) and completion percentage (.608). He is second in school history in total offense.

The end of his career was not what he wanted. Late in the Buffaloes' 70-3 loss to Texas in the 2005 Dr Pepper Football Championship game, Klatt was clocked by Texas' Drew Kelson, whose helmet caught Klatt flush on the chin. Mike Tyson never had a stronger knockout. It turned out to be Klatt's final game.

"To this day I don't have any recollection of the day, what led up to the game," Klatt said. "The first thing I can remember is waking up in a Houston hospital the next morning."

When he visited a neurologist after the Texas game, Klatt was told that he had just suffered his 10th concussion.

"I had done a pretty good job of hiding things," Klatt said. "He started explaining the symptoms and we went back and figured out that I had been suffering concussions. Less violent hits were causing more and more damage."

Klatt's initial reaction to the doctor's diagnosis was "Can I play again?" Sara, his wife of seven months, was relieved when he was not cleared to play in the Champs Sports Bowl game.

Klatt works for Denver-based Eagle Equity, a real estate investment company. He raises capital and finds investors for the company.

That's his day job. As a side gig, he's doing television work. He appears weekly on Fox Sports Net's Big 12 Showcase and has worked as an analyst on some Colorado telecasts and some Arena Football League games.

"I would love to take that as far it goes," said Klatt, who got his degree in economics. "I really enjoy it, I've got a passion for the game of football. I learned the game and I love to pass that knowledge along to fans and viewers."

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