About the series: After spending several days with the Kaepernicks, The Turlock Journal is detailing the life of Colin Kaepernick in a three-part series. He is a Turlock native who attended Pitman High as a student-athlete in three sports but is now the starting quarterback for the University of Nevada in Reno.
Past: Colin Kaepernick grew up in an adoptive household and was always around sports, which shaped him in becoming arguably the first great athlete to go through Pitman High. But even so, it was difficult to convince college scouts that his passion was in football, not baseball.
Present: What is it like being the face of the University of Nevada football? The Journal had the opportunity to shadow Kaepernick for a day in Reno, visiting his home, his workplace and the school’s athletic facilities to get a glimpse of a person who was recognized almost everywhere he went.
Future: There have been talks about Kaepernick turning pro for a couple seasons now, but does he have what it takes? Here, we take a look at what coaches, scouts and NFL experts think.
The piece of binder paper is slightly wrinkled. Surprisingly, it’s still rather white after being stored in a manila envelope for about seven years. On the sheet are words written by an 11-year-old boy.
This boy made a collection of bold predictions in Bret Sutterley’s fourth-grade class at Turlock’s Dutcher Elementary School. In 1998, the teacher instructed his students to write a letter to their future selves with thoughts on what they’ll be like at 18, as part of a time capsule project. Colin Kaepernick, who was still learning about writing, took out a pencil and scribbled this down:
I’m 5 ft 2 inches 91 pounds. Good athelet. I think in 7 years I will be between 6 ft -- to 6 ft 4 inches 140 pounds. I hope I go to a good college in football Then go to the pros and play on the niners or the packers even if they aren’t good in seven years. My friend are Jason, Kyler, Leo, Spencer, Mark and Jacob
For the most part, he’s been right. Or close to it.
The San Francisco 49ers aren’t exactly “good” in the NFL, with the team having missed the playoffs every season since 2003. He’s the star quarterback of the University of Nevada football team in Reno. The Wolf Pack have made it to a bowl game every year that he’s been the starter and were picked by coaches and the media to finish second in the Western Athletic Conference behind Boise State in the upcoming season. He’s listed at 6-foot-6, just two inches more than what he predicted. And, perhaps most important, he has been considered a serious NFL prospect since the end of last season.
Don’t kids say the darndest things?
Twelve years after that letter was written, Kaepernick is in high demand. He’s heading into his senior season at Nevada as a three-year starter. And even though the Wolf Pack’s first game isn’t until Sept. 2, some 40 NFL agents are already bombarding his parents’ Turlock home with calls.
The next NFL Draft isn’t until months away. But before he’s placed under a microscope at the NFL Scouting Combine, it’s important to look at his upbringing, his present life and his future. Potential coaches, general managers and scouts probably would like to know the same.
In fact, let’s start with this date: Nov. 3, 1987. That’s the day he was born in Milwaukee, Wis., and, five weeks later, Rick and Teresa Kaepernick assumed the roles of adoptive parents. Before Colin, their two previous infant sons died shortly after birth from congenital heart defects.
Doctors told the Kaepernicks that if they continued to have boys, they could possibly suffer the same fate. Ultimately, they decided to stop trying and go to an adoption agency. They wanted a healthy baby, one who could grow up with older brother Kyle and older sister Devon. Their search for a son led to a struggling 19-year-old mother who worked in retail sales, who asked for three main criteria from an adoptive household: siblings, financial stability and a sports background. The birth mother read letters from the prospective parents and appreciated their background, as well as the fact that Rick and Teresa Kaepernick were working parents. Soon enough, Colin was theirs.
In late 1991, when Colin was 4, the family moved from the snowy winters of Fond du Lac, Wis., to their new home in Turlock after Rick became the operations manager at Hilmar Cheese Company — he later became the vice president of operations. Teresa is a registered nurse.
Older brother Kyle was against the move at first. He was junior high age, and worried about continuing hockey in a town without a hockey rink and initially didn‘t like the idea of making new friends.
“It was a massive shakeup,” Rick says, “but the job felt right.”Unbeknownst to the family at the time, the move was not only a boon to Pitman High’s athletics — a school that opened in 2002 — but also allowed Colin to grow up in a more diverse community.
Colin, as his former babysitter and now sister-in-law Lindsay states, has always been “a crazy kid who was really in sports.” As soon as he could walk, Colin stalked the dugouts of Kyle’s Little League games. Colin was agile and strong. Since his skin was darker than most of the people in Wisconsin and it was evident early on that he was gifted in sports, Colin was nicknamed Bo — by Kyle — after Bo Jackson, who had tremendous success in both the NFL and MLB during the late 1980s and early ‘90s.
Colin has always been different, and it wasn’t just the fact that he had a pet turtle while his friends owned cats and dogs. He truly started to realize this midway through his time at Dutcher Elementary. For one particular class assignment, he had to draw his family picture with crayons. He colored his parents and siblings in yellow. For himself? He naturally used brown.
“I knew I was different,” he says. “I just didn’t realize it.”
That was when Rick and Teresa began to explain the adoption. And as he got older, he learned a few facts about his birth parents. Both his birth parents stood over 6-foot-2, with his father having played football at the college level, at least. (Colin knows little about his father who disappeared after he was conceived, and hinted that he doesn‘t care to know anymore.) His birth mother found herself alone and working at a job that she believed wouldn’t be enough to support a child, information that she included in the letter she wrote at the time of the adoption and was given to Colin after he turned 18.
Through it all, Colin says he’s been truly blessed with Rick and Teresa and siblings Kyle, 32, and Devon, 28, and that he always feels at home when he’s around them. Colin does, however, get a kick out of people’s reactions when they first learn about his adoption.There are the double-takes and the long stares when he’s out with his family. Colin remembers when Nevada assistant coach Barry Sacks — who recruited Colin — literally took a step back and played a mental game of “What’s wrong with this picture?” Colin often gets mistaken as a separate party when he and his family check into a hotel.
Sometimes Colin doesn’t necessarily explain it right away. When a close friend finally meets his parents — who are of German descent, with Teresa being half-English — and asks him privately if he’s adopted, he processes the question as if he heard it for the first time. He contorts his face like he’s really upset and says, “How dare you ask me something like that?” And the friend will cringe, immediately feeling bad.That’s when Colin admits he’s only joking, and explains.
The recruiting trail
By the time he was a senior at Pitman High, Colin was an outstanding baseball player who had an intimidating presence at 6-foot-5 and the prowess to unleash 90-mph fastballs with great location. He received interest from nearly every college in the country, and was even projected to be selected in the 2006 MLB First-Year Player Draft. In fact, a representative from the majors sat in the Kaepernicks’ home and told them that much.
But Colin didn’t want that.
Yet he still excelled in baseball, highlighted by his leading the Pride to their greatest baseball triumph: the 2006 Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South Championship. But there was a truth that many people didn’t want to believe.
His passion was in football.
Football provided him his first taste of electricity, when he competed in the NFL Punt, Pass & Kick competition during halftime of an Oakland Raiders game at age 8 in front of thousands of fans. Football gave him the feeling of invincibility; when he used to sit in the stands with teammates such as Anthony Harding — who went on to play for Fresno State before trying out for the Green Bay Packers — before their games and think, “We’re unstoppable.”
Football gave him the option to look to others when he just couldn’t do it himself, as opposed to baseball, where he was a pitcher on a sometimes lonely dirt mound.
One of the few people who recognized Colin’s passion in football was his older brother Kyle. The family dubbed him Colin’s Biggest Fan. It wasn’t just because he was at every one of Colin’s games; it was because when Colin wasn’t playing, Kyle secretly e-mailed the editors of recruiting Web sites and suggested they take a look at his kid brother, though he never sent more than one message, an attempt to avoid being called “that pesky relative.”
One day, Kyle and his wife Lindsay went to the Staples in Turlock and bought 100 blank DVDs and burned the best of Colin’s senior season highlights — in which he completed 112-of-188 passes for 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions, enough to lead the Pride to the second round of the playoffs. They then mailed the highlight discs out to every Football Bowl Subdivision program (formerly known as Division I).
Colin heard back from a few, including East Coast schools like Duke, Boston College and Clemson that offered to take him as a walk-on. But he didn’t want that. His family knew he had worked too hard to simply let it go, as they remembered when they traveled to the Bay Area for workouts with Roger Theder, a quarterback guru who coached for Cal before stints as an assistant for the Baltimore Colts and San Diego Chargers.
Colin continued to deal with the nuisance of recruiting. He remained stoic when Fresno State coach Pat Hill made the 80-mile trip to meet with teammate Anthony Harding and the man with the Fu Manchu mustache told Colin that the Bulldogs weren’t looking for a quarterback at the time. Hill wished him luck.
There were more bittersweet moments like that, when college coaches watched Colin’s games and said they liked what they saw but didn’t want to risk a scholarship on someone who had so much potential in baseball. Even Nevada was reluctant. On the day the Wolf Pack offered, just a week before National Signing Day in February 2006, coach Chris Ault phoned then-Pitman coach Larry Nigro and Colin’s dad, Rick, numerous times about where Colin’s heart was at when it came to sports.
Football, they responded.
Ultimately, Nevada took a gamble.
“Looking back, it’s almost satisfying it happened that way,” Colin said. “It was one team that trusted in me and wanted me for one thing.”
So he was right all along.
To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail email@example.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.