MORGANTOWN - They arrived at Iowa State at the same time in the summer of 2009 and realized immediately they had a problem.
A.J. Klein and Jake Knott were both true freshmen linebackers from the Midwest: Klein from Wisconsin, Knott from Iowa. Knott was maybe an inch taller and a few pounds heavier, but the difference was impossible to spot when they were in a uniform, and they happened to act and play alike in a helmet and shoulder pads, too.
They were roommates and they both played in every game that first season. They stayed together during road trips in the future. A teammate or coach couldn't go into the weight room, whether in the season or outside of it, and not see them working out together.
"One of us needed to make a drastic change, so he did it with his hair," Knott said. "He said it looks good, but I think he took one for the team there."
It began as a bet offensive lineman Kyle Lichtenberg made with Klein years back and he dared Klein to grow the flowing, shoulder-length hair that has since become the calling card that separates him from Knott.
"I decided to keep it going and it's been a pretty good run," Klein said. "I figured I might as well keep it."
Good thing, too, for they continued to mirror one another through the years.
Knott made 130 tackles as a sophomore and added four interceptions and four forced fumbles as a finalist for Big 12 defensive player of the year. Last season, Knott made 114 tackles. Klein managed 111 and 117 and was the Big 12's co-defensive player of the year in 2011.
Together they were being regarded as the best linebacker tandem in the country, one that is bound to provide a worthy matchup for West Virginia (5-5, 2-5 Big 12) in Friday's 3:30 p.m. ABC game at Jack Trice Stadium.
Over time, though, one thing managed to distinguish one from the other. Knott just could not stay healthy. Last season alone, when he made only three fewer tackles than the best defender in the Big 12, Knott broke his forearm in the spring, broke his hand and re-broke his forearm during the season and separated his shoulder in the Pinstripe Bowl.
"Not being able to hit in practice, I felt like that played a big role in not being as physical on the field, not shedding blocks like I used to, but that's what made me look forward to being 100 percent again," he said.