Kaepernick had been flying under the radar in July 2010, when he and Rick arrived at the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La. All the top QBs were there—Moore, Stanford's Andrew Luck, Florida State's Christian Ponder, plus what seemed like half the starters in the SEC. "And here comes Colin, from the University of Nevada," recalls Rick, who when the time came to drop his son off wished him luck.
"He looks right at me, doesn't blink an eye, and says, 'It isn't about luck anymore. You either have it or your don't. You worked at it or you didn't.'"
Colin strode onto the practice field with his customary confidence, body language proclaiming: This is exactly where I belong. The first guy he tossed with was Luck. They hit it off. Later that summer, while being debriefed by his Cardinal coach, Luck told Jim Harbaugh that he'd been highly impressed by the kid from Nevada. Harbaugh put that nugget in the vault and retrieved it six months later when he took the Niners' job.
In the run-up to the 2011 draft Harbaugh—an NFL quarterback for 14 seasons—flew to Reno and worked out Kaepernick himself. They went into Mackay Stadium and engaged in a series of contests. Who could throw the ball through the goalposts from the greater distance? Who could hit this or that target? Who threw the tighter spiral?
No one will say who won the competition, but Harbaugh clearly liked what he saw. When Kap was still available early in the second round, the 49ers traded up nine spots to snag him, dealing their second-, fourth- and fifth-round picks to the Broncos. Five quarterbacks went before he did: Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Ponder and Andy Dalton. Kaepernick is the only one who has played deep into January.
have to tell someone how good you are, how good are you, really?
This mantra, repeated often to his children by Rick Kaepernick, helps explain Colin's reluctance to talk about himself. Asked after the Green Bay game what he'd been feeling following that catastrophic interception, for instance, he replied, "I had to bounce back."
Kaepernick's stinginess with the spoken word belies what is, by all accounts, a powerful intellect. (He was recruited by various Ivies and scored an exceptionally high 37 on the Wonderlic test at the combine.) More likely he is mirroring Harbaugh's tendency to provide the media with no more than is absolutely necessary. The coach, one suspects, has challenged his quarterback to keep press conference replies under five words. Kaepernick's reaction to being named NFC Offensive Player of the Week in mid-December: "Excited about it." Could he characterize the work he'd been putting in after practice with tight end Vernon Davis? "Just extra throws."
He's not being uncooperative so much as he is striking a balance. As a second-year player and a first-year starter on a team loaded with accomplished veterans, he doesn't feel it's his place to do a lot of talking in the locker room. "He yells at times," says tight end Delanie Walker, "but mostly he leads by example, being the first person here every day, coming up to me in the morning excited because he's already watched film, telling me, 'Oh, man, if we can get this guy, this play is gonna be big.'"
"At quarterback, obviously you're going to have to speak up," said Kaepernick, in a long-winded-for-him reply, "but you can lead more by your actions, showing people you're prepared, and the decisions you make."