49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

December 1, 2012
Throw-away story: A profile of Colin Kaepernick

colinNevada.jpg

Some of you have been asking if anyone's written a profile of Colin Kaepernick. I wrote this two months *before* the 49ers drafted Kaepernick. (I think the word is 'clairvoyant.') It ran on Feb. 24, 2011, probably before a lot of you were interested in the quarterback from Nevada..

MOBILE, Ala. -- A lot of high school pitchers throw no-hitters. Colin Kaepernick did it twice as a senior, once while battling a bad case of pneumonia.

That's the kind of story you hear about the Turlock native and Nevada quarterback who led the Wolf Pack to a 13-1 record in 2010. The accounts have a Paul Bunyan-esque quality, and most revolve around Kaepernick's big right arm.

Kaepernick's Little League opponents were scared to step into the batter's box for fear of fastballs that left vapor trails under their noses. "I don't know why, because Colin had uncanny accuracy," said his father, Rick. "I think he only ever hit one batter."

When he was on the football field, the other parents would gasp when Colin uncorked 40-yard passes - not bad for a third-grader. In high school, his pitches were clocked at 94 mph, and the Chicago Cubs spent a draft pick on him - in the 43rd round - in 2009. Last summer, he attended the Manning Passing Academy and had the camp's famous namesakes gushing over his velocity.

Kaepernick's task this week, however, is to convince NFL evaluators he is more than just a powerful right arm.

He is one of 18 quarterbacks at the annual scouting combine in Indianapolis, where prospects are all but pinned and dissected by an army of scouts, coaches, team doctors and media.

Kaepernick is among the most intriguing specimens. When Nevada's season ended Jan. 9 with a 20-13 victory over Boston College in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco, he was viewed as a project - a quarterback with unique physical gifts who would require a lot of refinement. A fourth- or fifth-round pick seemed like the right price.

But at the Senior Bowl later that month, Kaepernick showed he might be a quicker study than some supposed. He looked comfortable taking snaps from center, something he didn't do often at Nevada, and he had better-than-expected touch on his passes.

Mike Mayock, the draft analyst for the NFL Network, said last week he though Kaepernick would be selected in the second round. "You'll laugh when you see him," Mayock said. "He can throw the football through a wall. But there is so much work that has to be done with this young man. The tradeoff is, how early do we take him vs. when can we get him on the field?"

When scouts probe Kaepernick's background, they'll find an unconventional story.
Colin was born in 1987 to a 19-year-old single mother in Milwaukee who didn't think she could raise him properly. She put him up for adoption. Meanwhile, in New London, Wis., Rick and Teresa Kaepernick had two healthy children before losing two baby boys to heart defects. They adopted Colin when he was 5 weeks old.

Colin is biracial. His parents and siblings are white. But it's always been a comfortable fit in a large extended family that doted on Rick and Teresa's youngest child even after the Kaepernicks moved to California.

Aunts and uncles routinely attended Wolf Pack games and planned mini-vacations around them. Colin even had a cheering section - uncles wearing "Kap" sweat shirts - in the stands during Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Ala.

One of Teresa's sisters, Kathy Algiers, noted that Nevada's bowl game was the same day New London's favorite sons, the Green Bay Packers, faced the Philadelphia Eagles in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs. She said the family watched Green Bay's 21-16 win at a San Francisco bar before watching Colin lead the Wolf Pack at AT&T Park. "When we got home, I told everybody we cheered for the Pack all day," she said.

Kaepernick has the same sweet Midwest disposition of his Wisconsin kin. But beneath that amiable exterior, people who know him say, lies a fierce competitor. Last year he scored an impressive 38 on the Wonderlic intelligence test - the average score for an NFL prospect is 19 - but was irked when he learned Idaho quarterback Nathan Enderle, a conference rival, scored higher. Kaepernick is gunning for the top score this year.

"He's always been very competitive," said Roger Theder, the former Cal coach who has been mentoring Kaepernick since high school. "He outworks everybody." Theder spent the last month in Atlanta with Kaepernick working to fix what NFL scouts see as the quarterback's biggest flaw: his passing style.

Many of football's top passers have a short delivery, which helps them get rid of the ball under pressure and helps deny defensive backs hints of where the ball will be thrown. Kaepernick's passes, however, are preceded by a long, baseball-pitcher windup that Theder has been trying to shorten. But he's mostly doing so to satisfy a common NFL gripe. The truth, Theder said, is that Kaepernick's exaggerated windup is of little consequence because the speed of his passes counteracts any jump a defender may get.

Theder raves about Kaepernick's arm strength, but he reserves Bunyan-esque comparisons for former Cal and NFL quarterback Steve Bartkowski, who had the strongest arm Theder has ever seen.

Theder insists he once watched Bartkowski heave a football 100 yards. "People don't believe me when I say that, but it's true," Theder said. "He did it. I haven't seen an arm like that since, but Colin comes close."

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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