Kaepernick the perfect trigger for Nevada's potent pistol offense
A top baseball prospect, QB Colin Kaepernick was overlooked by most schools
He became first player to throw for 2,000, rush for 1,000 in consecutive seasons
Kaepernick has Nevada off to 5-0 start with Nov. showdown with Boise looming
The kid from Pitman High in Turlock, Calif., had a 94 mph fastball. He also had a scholarship offer from Arizona State. He also had one from Notre Dame and another from Tennessee. As a senior, Colin Kaepernick threw two no-hitters, but he made one thing clear: He didn't see a future in baseball.
When a major league scout came knocking, Colin's dad, Rick, remembers sitting in the living room and his son saying, 'You're going to have to put 'unsignable' next to my name."
All Kaepernick wanted was to play football. The problem was, no one would listen. His high school coach, Larry Nigro, made a highlight tape and Colin's older brother, Kyle, made copies, sending them out to every FBS team. Still, Kaepernick didn't get any offers.
He attended elite camps, throwing alongside the likes of Josh Freeman, Jake Locker, Jevan Snead and Matthew Stafford. He proved he belonged. But to college football coaches Kaepernick was still a baseball player. They weren't going to risk giving him a scholarship only to see him change his mind before Signing Day.
"That was probably the most frustrating thing I've been through in a while," Kaepernick said. "I kept telling everyone, 'I'm not going to play baseball, I want to play football. Just give me a shot.'"
He ultimately made a believer out of Nevada's Chris Ault, who was the only coach to offer him a football scholarship -- though it did take constant convincing.
"[Ault] must have asked 100 times if he was going to play baseball," Rick Kaepernick said. "We said, 'Honestly he's not going to.'"
Ault's faith and Kaepernick's persistence have paid off. In 2009, the 6-foot-6, 225-pound triggerman of the pistol offense became the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in back-to-back seasons. And heading into Saturday's home game with San Jose State, he's helped the No. 21 Wolf Pack (5-0) jump out to their best start since joining the FBS.
Kaepernick can't help but take satisfaction in rewarding the coach who was willing to give him a chance. "[Ault's] the one person who took my word on what I was going to do, and to prove him right and make everyone else say 'we should have believed him.' ... it's a great feeling," Kaepernick said.
Kaepernick's life has been defined by rare chances. Ault gave him one, his parents gave him another.
The family portrait still hangs on the wall of the Kaepernick's home and Colin admits he can't help but laugh when he sees it. He drew it when he was in third grade and every member of the family was accounted for. Their dog, Kiwi, was colored white. He used yellow for mom, dad, his brother Kyle and his sister Devon. But Colin, who is bi-racial, colored himself brown.
"I knew something was different," he said. "But I didn't know what."
The Kaepernicks adopted Colin when he was five weeks old. Kyle was their first born, then they had two more boys who were days old when they died of heart defects. Doctors did a genetic study and told them they shouldn't have any more kids, but Teresa unexpectedly became pregnant again with their daughter. "We didn't want to go through that again," Rick Kaepernick said. "So we said if we were going to have another kid, we would adopt."
When they began the process, they only had one real stipulation: They wanted another boy. The Kaepernicks were living in New London, Wisc., when they found a 19-year-old mother in Milwaukee who was doing a private adoption. The woman's boyfriend had left her shortly after finding out she was pregnant and the mother wanted her baby to have a better life.
The Kaepernicks were asked to submit a profile and the teen picked theirs. They knew they would raise some eyebrows, a white family with a bi-racial child, but to them he was as much their child as Kyle or Devon. "We look at Colin as our son," Rick Kaepernick said.
When Rick Kaepernick tells people his son plays for the Wolf Pack, he expects a bewildered stare when he points to the black quarterback wearing No. 10. "They say 'No. 10 ... like Kaepernick?'" he says. "Most people can't figure it out, then they kind of figure it out."
The first time Ault saw Kaepernick was at his quarterback camp the summer before Kaepernick's senior year of high school. He was one of 18 passers in attendance, and while his arm strength was undeniable, his mechanics were raw.
"He was a pitcher and [his delivery] wasn't the over the top; it was on the side," Ault remembers. "In high school he didn't have a lot of people correcting him on his technique."
Ault told his staff that'd they'd keep him on their radar, but as a free safety or maybe even wide receiver. The pistol formation, which utilizes a quarterback in a short shotgun with a running back a couple of yards behind him, requires a quarterback who can run, but Kaepernick never ran much in high school. His coaches didn't want to risk the lanky passer, who was 170 pounds at the time, getting injured, so he spent most of his time throwing or handing off.
But as the calendar turned to December, the Wolf Pack were still in need of a quarterback. They had narrowed their list down to four or five guys, but with football season over, Ault sent assistant Barry Sacks to see Kaepernick play basketball to gauge his athleticism and see how he handled himself in a competitive environment.
Nevada was sold, though it needed an assurance. Kaepernick had to promise the staff he wouldn't play baseball while on scholarship. Kaepernick hasn't thrown a pitch since the California high school section championship series in 2006 -- though that hasn't stopped major league teams from drafting him. The Cubs took him in the 43rd round of the 2009 draft and he quickly told Chicago he was committed to staying at Nevada. "I said 'Kap, this is why the Cubs are having so much trouble,'" Ault recalls. '"They're drafting guys that aren't even playing baseball.'"
Kaepernick solidified his position as a top quarterback six games into his redshirt freshman season. Making his first start against Boise State in place of the injured Nick Graziano, Kaepernick passed for 243 yards and three scores and ran for another 177 yards and two TDs. The Broncos won that game 69-67, but there was now little doubt: The kid with that major league-level fastball was, indeed, a college quarterback.
Three years later, he ranks second nationally among all active players with 11,578 total yards and 118 TDs. He has 13 career games with at least 100 yards passing and rushing and he's closing in on joining former Missouri star Brad Smith as the only players to rush for 4,000 yards and throw for 8,000.
But Kaepernick's focus lies elsewhere. His sights are on a WAC championship, and he knows that means beating No. 3 Boise State. They won't meet until Nov. 26 in Reno, but if the wins continue to pile up, the anticipation of a possible undefeated showdown will be hard to ignore.
"Where we want to go, we have to go through Boise," Kaepernick said. "To get this WAC championship, to get the bowl game we want, we have to go through them."
Beating the Broncos is something that Kaepernick has never done in three tries and the Wolf Pack will be heavy underdogs. But like the 119 FBS schools that passed on him, doubt him at your own risk.
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