He’s a second round draft pick from a small conference school, Nevada, which was the only college to offer him a football scholarship. How did Colin Kaepernick end up at the helm of one of the NFL’s most storied franchises? Through persistence, self-belief, a relentless work ethic—and a fierce approach to training.
“Do not underestimate the determination of a quiet man.”
That quote, attributed to British politician Iain Duncan Smith, is the only thing written in the bio on Colin Kaepernick’s Twitter page. On social media and in person, Kaepernick is relatively quiet. He tweets maybe once a day. When he speaks, which happens often enough that you’d consider him friendly and polite, but not so frequently that you’d call him talkative, his words are soft-spoken.
Kap trains on the Keiser machine.
Right now, however, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback is not quiet. He’s grunting, gritting his teeth, and looking like he’s trying to jump through a wall. Inside ProActive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, California, Kap is performing a set of Squats on a Keiser machine—a pneumatic resistance workout tool that measures the force an athlete exerts during a movement—trying to match the output of Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, who just stepped off. And although knowing their respective bodyweights (Kaepernick weighs 233 pounds, Miller, 250) and a little physics would suggest this isn’t a goal he is likely to realize, Kap looks hell bent on achieving it.
WHAM! Kaepernick crouches. WHAM! Crouches again. WHAM!
The set ends. The trainer monitoring him smiles and lets out a “whoot!” Kap didn’t match Miller’s number. But he got impressively close.
“I was a little bit mad that I couldn’t get a little higher on that,” Kaepernick says later, smiling. “But I was going against some of the best defenders in the league [Packers LB Clay Matthews and Giants LB Spencer Paysinger were also training at ProActive that day]. So I didn’t feel too bad that I was a little bit below them.”
It’s not the first time Kaepernick chased a goal that seemed out of reach. And it won’t be the last. Kap has been chasing big things his entire life, often with a chorus of naysayers telling him he couldn’t do it. Today, he’s preparing for a 2014 NFL season in which his 49ers are among the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Months ago, he signed a contract potentially worth $121 million. Many years before that, he was just a high-energy kid with a lot of talent, a loving family, and a bunch of “experts” telling him he was making a huge mistake.
They called him “Bo”
As in Bo Jackson. When Colin was just a kid, friends of his older brother Kyle thought he was a riot. The younger Kaepernick always wanted to join his brother’s sports practices, whether it was baseball, football or anything else. The funny thing was that the pint-sized Kap was good. Really good.
“They started calling me ‘Bo’ after Bo Jackson, because they were like, ‘oh, he’s young and he can do pretty much anything,’” Kaepernick says. “I was always trying to be involved.”
Kaepernick’s parents entered him in Punt, Pass and Kick contests, which he won—“mainly,” he says, “because I could throw and punt the ball well. I wasn’t too good kicking off the tee.”
By the time he reached high school, Kaepernick was a three-sport athlete playing football, basketball and baseball for Pitman High—a new school in Turlock, California. Kap was part of the school’s first-ever freshman class.
[pullquote]”I felt very strongly that I wanted to be a football player. From the time I was young, I knew in my heart that’s what I wanted.”[/pullquote]
As a sophomore, he earned the starting varsity quarterback spot, because he “worked his butt off and won the job from the guy who’d had it the year before,” according to Kaepernick’s high school coach, Brandon Harris. With Kap at the helm, the team exceeded everyone’s expectations. Harris says, “We had eight sophomores starting on offense. Juniors were the oldest guys on the team. And we finished 6-4 in the biggest division in California.”
But it wasn’t Kaepernick’s prowess on the gridiron that had people at the next level talking. Baseball was the sport where scouts felt Kap’s future lay. And with good reason: he had a rocket for an arm and maintained an ERA in the 1’s while batting over .300.
“It got to a point where most schools were saying, ‘If you come for a visit, we will offer you.’ And a lot of the offers were 50- to 75-percent scholarships, which for baseball is huge,” Kaepernick says. “But I felt very strongly that I wanted to be a football player. From the time I was young, I knew in my heart that’s what I wanted.”
Late into his senior year, no college football programs seemed willing to give Kap a chance. After the fall season, he had no scholarship offers. It wasn’t until a recruiter for the University of Nevada saw him play in a state playoff basketball game that an opportunity finally arrived.
“I got my scholarship a week before signing day,” Kaepernick says. “Later, Coach Ault [Chris Ault, then Nevada’s head coach] told me one of the main reasons they gave me a scholarship was they figured they could make me a receiver or a safety if quarterback didn’t work out. So even they didn’t offer me with the idea that, ‘this is going to be our quarterback.’ It was, ‘if quarterback works out great, but if not he can play somewhere else.’”
Quarterback worked out
As you know, quarterback worked out. Thrust into the starter’s role as a redshirt freshman, Kaepernick led a potent offense, racking up thousands of yards through the air and hundreds more on the ground. By the time he was a senior, Nevada was a nationally ranked program that came within one game of a perfect season. Along the way, Kap got to dish out some payback to programs that had spurned him in the past.
[pullquote]”Even If I am not as talented as someone, even if I am not as good or as smart, I can outwork them. I can close the gap.”[/pullquote]
“One of my favorite moments was playing Cal my senior year,” Kaepernick says. “There was history there. When I was getting recruited, I’d gone there for a workout. I was supposed to be one of the quarterbacks they were looking at, but they’d made their offer the day before. So midway through the workout, their QBs coach tells Tedford [Jeff Tedford, then Cal’s head coach] he should come check me out. Tedford said ‘No, I don’t need to see him; I already have my quarterback.’ So, to me, we’d gone out there for nothing. If you already knew that, you should’ve just told us the day before. [So] when we got the opportunity to play Cal, I had a very big chip on my shoulder as far as what I wanted to prove that day.”
Kaepernick and his Wolf Pack teammates beat the Golden Bears, 52-31. “The fact that we went out there, played well and won by a large margin, putting up 50-something points, felt very good,” says Kap.
The gym is quiet now
Most of the other NFL-ers are gone. Kap is not.
He’s lying on the floor, on his back, holding a 45-pound plate near his forehead with his right hand. There’s a 10-pound plate in his left hand, which he holds far away from his body and inches off the floor. One leg is flat on the ground, the other is bent and elevated. Kaepernick slowly crunches his torso to lift the 45 up to his knee.
“This works core strength and stability. Having your arm to the side forces you to stabilize side-to-side, and not just forward-to-back,” he says.
The move is part of a 15-minute core workout Kaepernick performs after the group workout ends—a workout that was three hours long and included training on the field and in the gym. When it comes to hard work, he leaves nothing to chance.
“I think that was one of the main reasons I was successful, despite people telling me that I shouldn’t be doing this, or that I wasn’t going to make it, or that I wasn’t good enough,” Kap says. “Even If I am not as talented as someone, even if I am not as good or as smart, I can outwork them. I can close the gap.”