It doesn’t make much sense that Marlin Klein would be here, even under normal circumstances. Not many talented, athletic Europeans drop everything and move to America to play American football. Fewer get college offers. Fewer still deal with a pandemic that upends the entire process.
Klein, a high school junior, became Michigan’s third class of 2022 commitment on Sept. 22. The announcement drew little fanfare. The tight end has three stars to his name and no one on the Wolverines’ coaching staff has seen him play. He got on their radar when his coach at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School in Georgia, Joe Sturdivant, edited a highlight video to better show off his abilities. He wanted coaches to see him running.
“Sometimes you get those big guys, they don’t see how fast you are,” Sturdivant said. “So I just put the first one of him catching it and taking off and accelerating. Making a couple big time catches over the shoulder. What I would want to see when I was recruiting.”
By the time Michigan tight ends coach Sherrone Moore reached out, Klein was back at home near Cologne, Germany due to the pandemic. The two built a relationship that culminated in the closest thing to a visit currently allowed under NCAA rules — Klein came up to Ann Arbor and walked around campus himself, seeing the outside of some buildings and getting lunch with tight end Luke Schoonmaker and defensive end Julius Welschof. Following the visit, Klein, who said he speaks with Moore two or three times a week, committed.
His reasoning for picking Michigan, though, goes beyond that. When he started watching the game, the Wolverines were one of the few teams he knew.
“It was always Michigan, it’s the Big House, big stadium,” Klein said. “It was kinda like the only team my parents really knew about.”
So, here he is.
Klein’s parents have supported him in this endeavor, one that — as of now — looks like it will pay off in a college scholarship. It’s only been three years since Klein attended his first football practice. He had played soccer for eight years, usually in goal because of his height (he now stands 6-foot-7) and quickness, then played basketball for two. That opened the door to American sports. One day, Klein went to his local football club, the Cologne Crocodiles, and started playing for them.
“I just really spent a lot of time getting to know the game of football, on my weekend, during my free time,” Klein said. “That made it a lot easier. It was just so different from all the other sports I’ve played before, but I really got it quickly, I would say, just because I really wanted to play football.”
Within a year or two, he was the best prospect in his class in all of Germany. That drew the eye of Bjorn Werner.
Werner, a German-born former defensive end for Florida State and the Indianapolis Colts from 2013-15, started an organization called Gridiron Imports after his playing career ended. The goal is to find European talent, get them to high school in the U.S. and, hopefully, Division I and the NFL. He met Klein at a camp in Cologne and sent out his tape.
“They really saw talent and all the coaches talked to my parents,” Klein said. “They just supported me because they knew I want to do this. And I feel like that’s my future and that’s what I want to do for the next years.”
By September 2019, he was touching down in Georgia. In Germany, he’d taken English classes, but now he had to learn the language fluently and live on his own at a boarding school.
“All my friends, my family, everything’s back home in Germany,” Klein said. “… So it was really hard, but I just had to take this step, just to get to where I’m at right now.”
Four games into his high school career, he already had an offer from Arizona State. The list grew from there, culminating in the commitment to Michigan.
In the two years between now and stepping on campus, Klein will need to fill out his frame and gain blocking ability to match his 6-foot-7 height.
“I think teams are really counting on him to be blocking tight end that can separate and run routes,” Sturdivant said. “Especially for coach (Jim) Harbaugh, he’s a 12 personnel, 11 personnel guy, You gotta be able to block.”
Klein is matter of fact about the whole process. He went through it because he wants to play football against the best competition possible, he says, and this was the way to take it as far as he could.
“That’s why I came here and that’s who I want to play against,” Klein said. “So I got used to it. And I’ve handled it pretty good, I think.”
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