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Carrington coach: Kleinsasser never changed as a pro

CARRINGTON -- Few people other than family know Jim Kleinsasser better than Marty Hochhalter.

The longtime, successful coach of the Carrington High School football team, Hochhalter was Kleinsasser's coach back in the mid-1990s when Jimmy, as he's known, began a career that sprouted in Carrington, grew in Grand Forks and bloomed with a 13-year career with the Minnesota Vikings.

Kleinsasser, who has announced he'll retire after the season, remains the same person today Hochhalter met as an eighth-grader.

"He's just a great guy. There's really no other way to explain him," said Hochhalter, who also coached Kleinsasser in track and field. "He's still the same genuine, nice person today he was when he left for UND. You hear people say that about famous athletes and other successful people, but with Jimmy it's really true.

"He's just a really down-to-earth good guy."

Kleinsasser was always loyal first, Hochhalter stressed that. He returned often for Carrington's summer football camp, and he was always active in Special Olympics around the area.

He never called ahead to newspapers or radio stations looking for publicity. He did it because he believed it was the right thing to do. In fact, getting him to talk about himself in an interview was like trying to escape from one of his vice-grip type blocks he was so roundly praised for by teammates and opponents alike.

"He never wanted the attention. Anybody who knows him knows that," Hochhalter said. "It wasn't because he was some grumpy guy who didn't like to talk or didn't like to be around other people because that's the furthest thing from the truth.

"He was just always about the team. Whatever it took to help his teammates, that's what he would do. He made everybody better and raised the level of play of everybody around him because of how talented he was and how unselfish he was."

Kleinsasser certainly looked the part of a rugged, physical NFL tight end. For years he wore the thick, black Paul Bunyan-type beard that seemed to blend perfectly with his hulking 6-foot-3, 270-pound frame that just screamed "North Dakota farm boy."

But beneath it was a polite, humble kid from Carrington.

"You talk about great role models, I mean, that was Jimmy," Hochhalter said. "He'd come to back to our camps and talk to the kids and everything he always talked about was just spectacular: Care about your teammates; Do the right things on the field; Do the right things off the field.

"You hear people talk about people that "get it." Well, Jimmy got it about as good as you can."

Hochhalter wasn't surprised by Kleinsasser's decision to walk away.

"It's going to be strange watching the Vikes and not seeing him out there, but he's very fortunate to have had the career he's had, and he'd be the first one to tell you that," Hochhalter said. "He's made us all in Carrington proud and really all North Dakotans can be proud of what he's accomplished."

Selvig is the sports editor for the Jamestown Sun, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.