Nevada's Kaepernick Battles Obscurity

SAN FRANCISCO - One pro scouting report called him "intriguing,'' which after the numbers, fabulous, and the general lack of national recognition, irritating, is possibly the best way to describe Colin Kaepernick.

He's a quarterback as well known for running as passing. He plays in a town, Reno, as well known for its slogan - "The Biggest Little City in the World'' - divorces and gambling, as its sports.

Kaepernick will lead Nevada, 12-1 Nevada, "The-school-which-ruined-Boise-State's-season'' Nevada, against Boston College in something called the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

The event is at AT&T Park, where the World Series champion San Francisco Giants normally preside, although football isn't exactly a stranger, the game previously called the Emerald Bowl having been played since 2002 and Cal announcing it will play several home games there during the 2011 season.

The event also is on Jan. 9, the day before the BCS Championship Game, meaning mostly it will be ignored. That seems appropriate for Kaepernick, who despite all sorts of meaningful records, 59 rushing touchdowns, more than 9,000 yards rushing and more than 4,000 passing in his four seasons, is a virtual afterthought outside his region.

It's some 200 miles from Reno to San Francisco, close enough for the Fight Hunger Bowl people to have brought in Kaepernick for a few hours to wander around AT&T and do interviews.

When the Southwest Airlines flight was about to take off, the captain announced, "By the way Wolf Pack fans, your quarterback is on this plane.'' The cheering was spontaneous and loud. They know him in Reno, for sure.

As a kid at Pittman High in Turlock, Calif., Kaepernick received only one scholarship offer from colleges in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision.

Maybe the other 119 schools to which the head coach, Larry Nigro, sent videos of Kaepernick were worried as a pitcher with a 90 mph fastball Kaepernicki would sign a baseball contract with the Chicago Cubs. Perhaps they didn't like Kaepernick's throwing motion, which still seems awkward and yet still seems effective.

Kaepernick had attended quarterback camps while in high school, with players such as Jake Locker and Matthew Stafford. Jesse Palmer, the one-time NFL backup and current TV commentator, told someone Kaepernick had the strongest arm of anybody. No one other than Nevada cared.

"Ever since then,'' Kaepernick told, "I've had a chip on my shoulder.''

It was the burden placed on his shoulders - and legs - which became more significant.

"I thought the Nevada offense would fit me well,'' said Kaepernick of a system head coach Chris Ault labels 'The Pistol,' a system which requires a quarterback who can move.

The University of California, located in Berkeley, which at one time held training camps in Turlock, was a mismatch against the well-fitted Kaepernick, with the Wolf Pack beating Cal, 52-21, earlier in the season.

Kaepernick ran for three touchdowns and passed for two. "The quarterback's excellent at what he does, said Cal coach Jeff Tedford.

But what does he do, other than gain yards and score points? He doesn't impress those who vote for trophies, Kaepernick not even getting a sniff of the Heisman, Davey O'Brien or Unitas awards.

He seemingly doesn't stack up in the minds of those running NFL franchises, Kaepernick projected as no more than a fourth-round pick in the draft.

"His mechanics need to be fine-tuned,'' said one scouting report. "His wind-up takes a while, as he brings the ball in from a low angle, almost his hip. That may not matter in the WAC, but the NFL is a whole different game.''

Tim Tebow got his share of knocks for the way he threw at Florida. Sunday, Tebow was the starter for the Denver Broncos. What should count is the ability to make plays. The 6-foot-6 Kaepernick has made them for four years.

"He's the leader of our team,'' said Ault after Nevada closed its regular schedule with a 35-17 win over Louisiana Tech. "There is no question about it.''

No question the victory over Boise State on Thanksgiving weekend, between the leftover turkey and late-hour finish in the Eastern Time zone didn't resonate as it could have.

Despite its recent success, Boise still is on the outside. The litany is, "Yeah, they're good, but if they played in the SEC or Big Ten ... ‘' And so by affiliation, Nevada and Kaepernick, even beating Boise, can't be that good, can they?

"Our focus was just on winning games, winning the WAC,'' said Kaepernick. "I wasn't t thinking of the big picture. But I do have some perspective. I was at Nevada while the school was making history. That win over Boise changed the emotion of the community.''

History has been made. Now Colin Kaepernick needs to make an impression. It's not enough to be intriguing.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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