For Kaepernick, it all began against Fresno State
November 14, 2009
RENO – Colin Kaepernick was beginning to wonder about his future as a quarterback for the Nevada Wolf Pack football team.
“Every week I would talk to my family and I remember my dad always telling me, ‘Just keep preparing every week like you are going to be the starter,'” Kaepernick remembered this week as he prepared for the Wolf Pack’s (6-3, 5-0 in Western Athletic Conference) game against Fresno State (6-3, 5-1) at Mackay Stadium on Saturday (1:05 p.m.). “‘Don’t worry. You’ll get your chance.'”
Kaepernick, a redshirt freshman in the fall of 2007, wasn’t so sure his father’s words would ever come true. The Wolf Pack starter at quarterback at the time, Nick Graziano, was playing extremely well , throwing for 330 yards against UNLV and 337 against Northwestern. Kaepernick appreciated the encouraging words from his father but, still, he wondered if he’d ever get his chance at Nevada.
“Kap came into my office the week before the Fresno game that year and wanted to talk,” head coach Chris Ault said. “He just sat down and asked me, ‘Am I ever going to get a chance to play?’ He knew Graz was number one. He was good about it. All I could tell him was, ‘We’ll get you in there every chance we get. Graz is the starter but hang in there, keep working hard.'”
Fresno State coming to town on Saturday brought back a lot of memories for Kaepernick.
“It was tough mentally,” said Kaepernick of the first four games of his red-shirt freshman year that saw him throw just six passes. “There were times when I definitely thought I wasn’t ever going to play here.”
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Wolf Pack history would change drastically just a few days later. Graziano suffered a season-ending injury (broken foot) early in the second quarter against Fresno State on Oct. 6, 2007, and the skinny kid who wondered if he’d ever get his chance wasn’t wondering any longer.
Kaepernick entered that Fresno State game with the Pack trailing 14-6 with about eight minutes to go in the second quarter. Less than three quarters later he had passed for 384 yards and four touchdowns and also added 60 yards and another score on the ground as the Pack ended up losing 49-41.
Forget the final score. One of the greatest quarterbacks in school history was born.
“I definitely didn’t expect that kind of production the first time out there,” smiled Kaepernick. “But that was all because of my teammates. They did a great job showing confidence in me.”
Graziano? He ended up sitting the bench last year at Nevada behind Kaepernick, left the school and is now one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Division II, throwing for an incredible 3,416 yards and 31 touchdowns in 10 games at Arkansas Tech. Odds are if Graziano had never broken his foot that day against Fresno State he might still be the Pack’s starting quarterback.
“You never know,” Ault said.
Kaepernick will face Fresno State at home today for the first time since that historic afternoon two years ago.
“No, I didn’t expect that type of game out of him that day,” said Ault of Kaepernick’s coming out party. “You knew he could do some things but our offense was very basic at that time. We only had a few simple reads at that time.”
“Back then they kept things pretty basic for me,” Kaepernick said. “Now, Coach Ault will go over our drive and he’ll tell me, ‘You know what you’re doing. Go do it.’ That wasn’t the case back then.”
Two years ago against Fresno State, the skinny 6-foot-6 kid from Pittman High in Turlock, Calif., really didn’t know what he was doing. All he knew was that this was the opportunity he dreamed of when he walked into his head coach’s office just a few days before.
“He showed some things in practice but nobody knew,” Ault said. “He was just out there going off the seat of his pants. That was a big jump he had to make.”
Kaepernick’s first two passes against Fresno State two years ago fell incomplete. On the third play, though, he gave a glimpse of greatness to come by running 12 yards for a first down. A few plays later he found Marko Mitchell on a 9-yard touchdown pass.
Kaepernick finished with a flurry that afternoon, putting the Pack in the end zone on his final three drives. He scored himself on a 3-yard run and also hit Luke Lippincott (36 yards) and Adam Bishop (34 yards) for a pair of confidence-building touchdown passes.
Talk about hitting the ground running.
“Once we knew (Graziano) was going to miss the rest of the year, my teammates were amazing,” said Kaepernick, who led the Pack to a 41-28 win at Fresno State last season. “They just told me, ‘OK, it’s your time now to lead us. Let’s go to work.'”
He hasn’t stopped leading or working since.