NEW ORLEANS — We’ve seen Colin Kaepernick so much these past few months it’s easy to forget most football fans didn’t know who he was before November. Kaepernick-ing wasn’t a thing as recently as 11 weeks ago.
Kaepernick is used to this process. Been this way his whole life.
He is unnaturally gifted, a three-sport star in high school and now one of the most explosive athletes in a league full of them but still somehow managed one college scholarship offer. Maybe that’s because he didn’t run much as a high school quarterback and, yes, seriously — the guy who broke the NFL single-game rushing record for quarterbacks in his first playoff game didn’t run much back at Pitman High in Central California.
“No need,” he explains. “We had great running backs and we could throw the ball.”
That makes no sense, of course, unless his running backs were Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles (and they weren’t, we checked). But, then, there isn’t much of Kaepernick’s rise that makes sense. Mostly, that’s because with hindsight it doesn’t make much sense he needed to “rise.”
How did the football world miss him for this long?
The Super Bowl will be Kaepernick’s 10th career start, and to give you an idea, Peyton Manning was 2-8 after 10 starts. Much of the talk about Kaepernick tends to focus on his tattoos or adopted parents, and that’s fine, but it also misses a football underdog story that many haven’t heard.
Kaepernick was a straight-A high school student. He was a basketball star who scored 34 in a playoff game against a future NBA player (who, to be fair, Kaepernick remembers going for 50) and a good enough baseball player that the Cubs drafted him.
Baseball was a hindrance — Kaepernick always worried the interest scared off football coaches — but basketball turned into a ticket of sorts. Kaepernick’s high school team ran the Wing-T, and he was so skinny the coaches didn’t want him running much. So what recruiters saw was mostly a guy handing off in a run-first system, every once in a while showing off an awkward sling throwing motion.
But as the story goes, the Pitman High coach leaned on a relationship with the staff at Nevada to at least put Kaepernick on the radar. The Wolf Pack coaches kept up on him through tape but never saw him play in person. The first time they watched him live was at a basketball game — Kaepernick played well, despite a bad fever. Nevada’s coaches fell in love with his athleticism and competitiveness, and from then on their primary concern was whether Kaepernick would ride his 92-mph fastball after high school.
Again, this is hindsight, but it’s amazing they didn’t need to be concerned about another football program offering.
“At every level I’ve been overlooked,” he says. “I’ve been a second thought. So for me, I’ve had to go out and prove I shouldn’t be.”
People ask about his nerves come Sunday, and he says just because you haven’t done something before doesn’t mean you have to be nervous.
That last point resonates, especially. Because nobody has done what Kaepernick is doing, and he hasn’t appeared nervous yet.