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Colin Kaepernick: Change the Game

Posted Jan 17, 2013



Quarterbacking in the National Football League may never look the same thanks to Colin Kaepernick.

Come to find out, he likes it that way, too.

Since being named the San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback in late November, the second-year player has quickly carved out a strong following in less than one year as a full-time starter.

Kaepernick grew up idolizing strong-armed quarterbacks, but also ones that demonstrated the willingness to scramble for first downs when the opportunity presented itself. He studied film on the likes of Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb and Randall Cunningham – “all quarterbacks that were mobile and could make plays.”

Now, as Kaepernick and the 49ers await Sunday’s second consecutive appearance in the NFC title game and 14th all-time in team history, the young quarterback finds himself as the one setting the example for aspiring football players who wish to become a dual threat.

“I think that’s something I’ve always taken pride in,” Kaepernick told 49ers.com. “Growing up, there weren’t too many people who were doing it. I could remember my mom telling me at I don’t know how old I was, real young, ‘Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something. If this is what your heart is set on, go do it.’”

Kaepernick’s heart was in the right place Saturday night at Candlestick Park.

After beating the Green Bay Packers 45-31 in the Divisional Playoff round, the 49ers quarterback found out from his agent that he was going to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated in a story titled, “Holy Kaepernick…”

Those who knew him best were most pleased to hear Kaepernick would be on SI’s national cover.

“It is just exciting, beyond the realm of reality, truly special,” said Kaepernick’s college coach at the University of Nevada, Chris Ault. “He’s a special young man, he takes everything in stride.”

Yeah, that happened to Kaepernick all right. The youngest starting signal-caller in 49ers postseason history, however, took all the added attention in stride. The player born in Milwaukee, Wis., and raised on Green Bay football, became one of, if not the, biggest stories to hit the NFL this season with a record-setting performance over the Packers.

Even better, like Frank Sinatra, he did it his way.

Against his childhood favorites, Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards, the most in any single game by a quarterback in league history. Rewind that, most ever, in any NFL football game.

Kaepernick also supplied 444 total yards of offense and four touchdowns. Meanwhile, Green Bay picked up 352 yards and three offensive scores. The 49ers athletic quarterback rushed for two touchdowns and threw for two more, joining Otto Graham and Jay Cutler as the only quarterbacks to accomplish that feat in a postseason game.

Members of the national media were in awe, yet they couldn’t help but enjoy the electric plays being turned in by the first-time postseason starter.

“This is unreal,” tweeted former NFL quarterback and current NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner. “Kaepernick is giving us one of the more remarkable performances in playoff history.”

Warner wasn’t alone in picking his jaw off the floor.

NFL players also marveled at the performance of San Francisco’s starting quarterback, even those who’ve been considered as the league’s fastest play-makers. They, too, were in on the rapidly growing phenomenon.

“Kaepernick might be the fasted QB in da league!!” tweeted Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace.

Kaepernick’s popularity, however, wasn’t quite at its peak. Although Kaepernick’s fans created a “Kaepernicking” campaign on social media depicting the quarterback’s bicep-kissing end zone celebratory pose, it really didn’t’ take off until the SI cover was released.

As for the best “Kaepernicking” image viewed by the quarterback?

“I saw a girl ‘Kaepernicking’ while she was riding a horse,” the 49ers quarterback told reporters earlier in the week.

Teammates also seem to be appreciating the outpour of support from the 49ers Faithful supporters.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” said practice squad wide receiver Ricardo Lockette, Kaepernick’s roommate. “It’s every young man’s dream to be idolized by other kids, especially fans.”

“Kaepernicking” posts and magazine covers aside, the people closest to San Francisco’s starting quarterback see no change in him.

“I think Colin does a great job of continuing in his humility,” Jim Harbaugh said.

Lockette agreed.

“I don’t think it’s changed his personality, who he is or what he stands for.”

What Kaepernick stands for is work ethic, leadership and all-out competitive drive. Those traits were developed at a young age where he competed in three sports at Pittman High School  in Turlock, Calif. It continued at the University of Nevada where he became the first quarterback in NCAA history to throw for more than 10,000 yards and rush for more than 4,000 yards in a career. Kaepernick was also drafted by the Chicago Cubs to be a pitcher, but he wanted to follow his dream and play quarterback.

Ault saw those characteristics when a tall, skinny, but athletically-gifted quarterback made his way on to Nevada’s campus.

In Kaepernick, Ault also saw a leader wise beyond his years.

Six games into his redshirt freshman season, Kaepernick was called into action to lead the Wolfpack as a full-time starter. On Oct. 14, 2007, Kaepernick totaled 420 yards, finishing a marathon game with three touchdown passes and two rushing scores in a 69-67, four-overtime loss to Boise State.

It wasn’t the outcome Kaepernick, nor Ault wanted, but it spoke highly about the player the young quarterback would become. In fact, being thrown into action is what best helped Kaepernick prepare for his ascension as San Francisco’s starting quarterback.

“I think that’s what really kept me going the last year and a half,” Kaepernick admitted. “At any point my number could have been called and something could have happened where I needed to go in. So, just be ready.”

Ault saw that approach in college and witnessed it from afar last week.

“He’s the most humble, unselfish person I’ve ever coached,” Ault, the recently retired coach said in a phone interview with 49ers.com.

Once more, Ault saw those characteristics in Kaepernick’s postgame press conference after the Packers win. When members of the media asked the 49ers quarterback to discuss his performance of epic proportions, Kaepernick deflected the praise elsewhere.

“He would shun those questions and go right to praising the linemen, the receivers and the running backs,” Ault said. “He’s a team player.”

But more importantly, Kaepernick is a leader, wise beyond his 25 years.

“He leads by example,” Ault explained. “He’s not the ‘holler guy’ – he leads by his work ethic on the practice fields and in the weight room. I know that stuff is contagious.”

It’s the same thing with the 49ers.

Teammates and coaches continue to rave about Kaepernick’s eagerness to work. They regularly find him as the first player on the practice fields in the morning.

“Just to see how fast he’s picked up on the offense, just to see how fast he’s picked up on the game period, it’s remarkable,” six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis explained at the podium following the Packers victory. “I know that Kap’s a guy who works every day and he’s very confident in himself, not conceited by any means. But, if you see what we see every day, I get there and, I’m the type of man I don’t like to be out-worked, but honestly I get there to the facility and he’s outside already warming up.

“I think he works out every day,” Willis continued. “I joke with him all the time. I say you’ve got to be one of the biggest and strongest quarterbacks I’ve seen. But, he plays the position like a true quarterback.”

Early workouts, however, are nothing new to Kaepernick.

Turns out, not only is the quarterback a morning person; he’s been one for some time.

Dating back to his time at Nevada, Kaepernick took great pride in the work ethic he demonstrated in college and how it gave him structure to his training.

“During season, offseason, we were always there at 6 a.m. lifting, running, whatever it was,” Kaepernick said. “That’s something I carried over as part of my preparation.”

Another thing that followed Kaepernick from college to the NFL was Ault’s offense, better known as “The Pistol.”

Prior to Kaepernick’s emergence mid-season with the 49ers, the zone-read plays out of the shortened shotgun formation were only seen in college. But when Kaepernick was picked No. 36 overall in the second-round of the 2011 NFL Draft, the versatile formation made its way to the Bay Area. The 49ers worked on the plays starting last season, but really gave them a public showing once Kaepernick became the starter.

Ault loved seeing it being run so efficiently in the NFL. Teams have featured mobile quarterbacks for years, but never truly out of his formation. It took his prized pupil to really make it happen. Ault, unkowningly helped San Francisco's offense years back when he granted 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman permission to visit Nevada’s campus for a coaching clinic. The coaches exchanged game tape, allowing Roman to learn all about the formation while Roman worked on Harbaugh’s Stanford coaching staff.

Other than watching his former pupil run circles around opposing defenses and then thread the needle with both strong-armed and touch passes, Ault appreciated the timing of Roman’s “Pistol” play calls years later against Green Bay.

“It’s very similar to what we ran,” Ault explained. “I think the timing of the calls is what I’m enjoying most by Greg and the staff….  It’s really exciting. Their offensive scheme is terrific anyway, but it gives them one more thing defenses have to plan for.”

Ault launched the system back in 2005 at Nevada. Seeing it now become a highly successful formation in the pro ranks, not only for the 49ers but for multiple teams, has been a moving experience for the college football coach of 28 seasons.

“It’s great seeing it be effective in the NFL,” Ault said. “It’s fun to see the NFL coaches like Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman that can expand the horizons of their offense.”

The 49ers ran 32 plays from the formation in Saturday’s win over Green Bay. It’s not known how much it’ll be called upon against Atlanta, but if Kaepernick’s breakout performance was any indication of its future in the 49ers offense, the Falcons should get used to seeing it.

In addition to confidence, toughness natural play-making ability, Kaepernick is always improving as a thinker thanks to fatherly advice. As Kaepernick prepares for his second postseason start, the words from his father, Rick, stand firm in the back of his mind.

Throughout the quarterback's rise to national stardom, Kaepernick’s father has been his biggest supporter.

“My dad, he’s always in my ear,” explained the 49ers quarterback. “It was when I wasn’t playing or when I was going to get my first start or getting ready for last week – he’s always the one that’s testing me or calling me.

“Most of the time it’s short simple things like, ‘Stay focused. Keep working hard.’”

Such messages have been received by Colin, loud and clear.

“Little things like that coming from my dad, it really resonates like, ‘I’ve got to keep going, I’ve got to keep making sure I’m ready.’”

All the wisdom from pops and hours spent in the 49ers training facility add up to Kaepernick feeling even more comfortable heading into a loud road environment with a Super Bowl berth on the line.

“We’ve put in a lot of hours and a lot of work to get ready for this game,” Kaepernick said. “Now, it’s just about going out and executing.”

The whole world will practically be watching, or as Ault points out, most of the state of Nevada will be at his place to watch the NFC title game.

“I’m going to have to build a stadium in our backyard,” Ault joked.

Why?

“He’s brought so much pride to anyone associated with the Nevada football program. It’s an exciting time in the lives of those who’ve been associated with the Wolfpack.”

And, it’s that way for those associated with the San Francisco 49ers.

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