Humble Hero

Sept. 8, 2004

by Alisa Brandle

For Husky senior C.J. Klaas, soccer runs in the family.

His older sister, Katie, played collegiate soccer at Northern Illinois University, and his older brother, Kevin, played at Judson College. It was competition with his siblings growing up that fueled the fire which drives Klaas to succeed.

'They were my inspiration when I was growing up, because I always wanted to beat them so badly but they always beat me,' he says. 'I think that's why I ended up so competitive.'

Don't think, though, that a strong competitive nature must always lead to arrogance or cockiness. Klaas is humble and modest, even as the accolades for his accomplishments on the soccer field overflow his parents' trophy case.

As a freshman, Klaas became the only Husky ever to be named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, and was a member of Soccer America's All-Freshman Team. The following year, Klaas paired duties with the Huskies with a commitment to the Under-20 U.S. National Team, earning NSCAA All-Far West Region and first-team All Pac-10 honors in the process.

His junior year, Klaas became the first player in Washington history to earn NSCAA first-team All-America honors. Already this year, the senior has been named a preseason All-American by College Soccer News, and is one of 25 players named to the watch list for the Herrmann Trophy, awarded to college soccer's most outstanding player. Klaas was a semi-finalist for the award last season; another dynamic year should only bring him closer to the coveted trophy, and his team closer to the Final Four of the NCAA College Cup.

'I am really excited about this year,' he says. 'Everyone looks really good and in shape, and this should be my banner year. We have all been working really hard and it should pay off.'

Having served the previous three years at midfield -- one of the most dominant and visible positions on the field -- Klaas in 2004 will drop back to fullback. As a midfielder, Klaas quarterbacked the offense, but as a fullback, he will be asked to apply his speed and agility to marking the opponents' top strikers.

Although he has played the position before, for the National Team, it is entirely different with a Husky team that he is used to leading from the center.

'It is tough, because I like to be able to control the game -- from center midfield you feel like you are the heart and soul of the game,' he says. 'But my future lies at right back, and I am excited to play the new position.'

His coach and close friend, Dean Wurzberger, wholeheartedly agrees.

'If C.J. plays up to his potential, we will have the premier player at the fullback position in all of college soccer this year,' he says.

A native of Cherry Valley, Ill., Klaas will have to adjust not only to a new position, but to several new teammates as well. Ten freshmen will join a Husky team that reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament in 2003, leaving Klaas and his fellow seniors the task of leading the newcomers to greater heights.

'The senior class was really strong when I came in; they took our freshman class under their wing and us as players,' he says. 'A team can be made or broken according to how everyone gets infiltrated into the team. It comes down to the older players determining the cohesiveness of the team.'

Klaas has played on the National Team for four years, and after college plans to enter the Major League Soccer draft. There is life after soccer, however, and it will begin before the draft even takes place. While juggling soccer and school, Klaas will be planning his wedding to former Husky soccer player Blair Ruport. Ruport, who graduated last spring with an economics degree, was a four-time letterwinner for the Husky women's soccer team and has been instrumental to Klaas' success on the soccer field.

'Blair is a lot more disciplined than I am, and that motivates me to get in shape for soccer,' Klaas says with a smile. 'I am so excited for our wedding, and am just so blessed to have her in my life.'

Husky fans don't care whether Klaas gets his inspiration from his siblings or his fiancee -- they're just happy to have one more year to appreciate their humble hero.

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