Kleinsasser has made mark in NFLWhen Jim Kleinsasser found out he had been selected for induction into the North Dakota Sports Hall of Fame, he was taken aback. “When I first got the news, I kind of asked myself, ‘Am I old enough?’” Kleinsasser said. “When you get into a hall of fame, aren’t you supposed to be older?”
By: By Scott Throlson, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
When Jim Kleinsasser found out he had been selected for induction into the North Dakota Sports Hall of Fame, he was taken aback.
“When I first got the news, I kind of asked myself, ‘Am I old enough?’” Kleinsasser said. “When you get into a hall of fame, aren’t you supposed to be older?”
At any age, Kleinsasser is more than qualified.
The Carrington native is entering his 10th season in the National Football League. He was an All-American tight end at the University of North Dakota. In high school, he excelled in basketball and track as well as football.
On Saturday, he will be inducted into the state hall of fame along with DeWayne King and Dick Karlgaard.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s a big honor,” Kleinsasser said. “There are some very big names in there already and to be at that same level, it’s pretty cool.”
Kleinsasser stood out at an early age. He was twice named the Gatorade Circle of Champions state football player of the year. He helped the Carrington Cardinals win a state Class B boys’ basketball tournament title in 1995. In track, he set state records in the shot put (62-2, which still stands as the Class B standard) and in the discus (183-11, a mark that fell by one inch this spring). He also won national AAU titles in the shot put and discus.
But it’s not the titles or the individual honors that stand out in Kleinsasser’s mind.
“Ever since being a little kid just starting out in sports, along the way I’ve had great friends, teammates and great coaches along the way,” Kleinsasser said.
“The big thing is the people around me were all such great people.”
At UND, Kleinsasser began his career with a bang. In 1995, he became the first true freshman to start for the Fighting Sioux in the decade. As a freshman, he was a two-sport athlete for the Sioux, suiting up with the basketball team for a season before focusing on football.
By the time his career was finished, Kleinsasser was considered one of the best tight ends in the country, regardless of division. He started in the Senior Bowl, annually the top all-star game showcase for NFL prospects.
He was a three-time all-North Central Conference selection and finished his career ranked in the top 10 on UND’s career receiving yards and touchdowns lists. He was a two-time NCAA Division II All-American.
Kleinsasser played on one NCC championship team and two teams that reached the national playoffs.
“The biggest thing through the years is the friends and teammates and coaches,” Kleinsasser said. “The teams I’ve been on have been some great units, working together.”
He was the second member of his family to earn All-American honors at UND. Sister Sheri Kleinsasser was a two-time All-American and finished her career as UND’s all-time leading scorer in basketball.
Looking back on his college career, one other thing stands out.
“When I was at UND and we were getting to that next level and we were going down and beating NDSU. You always have to put beating NDSU right up there,” Kleinsasser said.
The Minnesota Vikings selected Kleinsasser in the second round (the No. 44 pick overall) in 1999 and has played a big role in the team’s offense ever since.
He’s caught 158 passes for 1,374 yards and six touchdowns in his Vikings career. And while lining up at fullback at times, he’s carried the ball 43 times for 147 yards and another TD. Only Steve Jordan has started more games at tight end in Vikings history than Kleinsasser, who has 93 starts in 117 regular-season games. He’s played in four playoff games.
“Being in the NFL, from the day I got drafted to this day now, every day I’m looking around and thinking, ‘Wow, I really do this for a living,’” Kleinsasser said.
But more than his offensive numbers, what has set Kleinsasser apart in the NFL has been his blocking.
Jimmie Johnson, a 10-year veteran in the NFL and the team’s tight ends coach, has called Kleinsasser the best blocking tight end in the league.
“To have somebody like him talk like that, it feels good,” Kleinsasser said. “Jimmie played in the league for a lot of years. It feels good coming from him.”
Kleinsasser has been a big part of some of the best rushing performances in Vikings history. He has helped pave the way for four of the top five single-season rushing totals in franchise history and he’s blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher in five of his eight full seasons (he was limited to one game in 2004).
Three Vikings running backs have earned Pro Bowl trips running behind Kleinsasser’s blocks — Robert Smith, Michael Bennett and Adrian Peterson, last year’s Rookie of the Year. Kleinsasser also played a big role in Peterson’s NFL single-game record-setting performance against San Diego (296 yards).
He’s getting set for another trip to Mankato for training camp. Nine years of on-field collisions take their toll, be he’s ready to go.
“This offseason, I feel as good as I’ve felt in the last couple of years,” Kleinsasser said. “My 1-year-old son has taken the edge off a lot of things, I think.”
Kleinsasser is optimistic about the upcoming season as the Vikings set their sights on a return to the playoffs.
“I’ve had some good teams in Minnesota,” Kleinsasser said. “But this team has a ton of talent. The big thing is we have the right type of guys — good teammates, guys who are willing to put the work in, sacrifice for the team. That’s huge, that cohesiveness and playing well together.”
Sun sports editor Scott Throlson can be reached at (701) 952-8462 or by e-mail at email@example.com