RENO - Colin Kaepernick sees tonight's game against undefeated Hawaii as a great opportunity for Nevada's football team.
And, it won't be such a bad opportunity for the freshman quarterback to showcase his own running and throwing talents in front of a national television audience, either.
The 6-6 Kaepernick has guided the Pack to three straight wins which has revived some bowl talk around the Reno campus, and he'd like nothing better than to make it four straight tonight (8 p.m.. ESPN2).
Kaepernick's story resembles that of a Broadway play where the talented understudy patiently waits for his chance to play the lead role and makes a name for himself in the process.
For those with short memories, Kapernick failed in his bid to beat out sophomore Nick Graziano for the No. 1 job out of fall camp. When Graziano went down with a foot/ankle injury against Fresno State, Kaepernick threw for 384 yards and four touchdowns.
Then came Boise State and his first appearance on the famed Smurf Turf. Kaepernick was brilliant again, rushing for 177 yards and three scores, and throwing for 243 yards and two scores in the wild 69-67 four-overtime loss that became an ESPN Instant Classic.
"We were just trying to keep it simple," Kaepernick said of his early success. "To come in after the game and see the numbers, it was a little surreal. Now that I have done it, I know I can do it. Instincts took over a couple of times out there."
Kaepernick has thrown for 1,237 yards and 13 touchdowns in the past five games, and ranks fifth in total offense (244.7), third in passing efficiency (155) and seventh in passing yardage per game (178.3) in the WAC.
Simply put, Kaepernick literally ran with his opportunity.
"I was just waiting for my opportunity the whole time," Kaeprnick said. "I had confidence in my abilities. In the off-season, I put in the work and got a lot stronger."
Nevada coach Chris Ault chided reporters a bit the following week after the Fresno game.
"I told a lot of you how close that competition was," Ault said at the time. "You saw how well Colin ran during the scrimmages. He gives you that extra dimension with his running ability. It's something else that teams have to plan for.
"He still has some things he needs to work on, in terms of his release. He needs to get more on top of the ball instead of throwing sidearm. He has a lot of natural ability."
One thing Ault wants to see in his quarterbacks is good decision making and managing the game.
Ault was especially proud of Kaepernick's play against New Mexico State in a 40-38 win where he accounted for 373 yards and five scores. Nevada scored 20 fourth-quarter points, and Kaepernick had a hand in all three scores, running for two touchdowns over 30 yards apiece and throwing a last-minute score to Mike McCoy.
"In our minds we knew he would be a pretty nice player," tight end Adam Bishop said. "You could see that in fall camp when he was running downfield against the defense.
"I'm still surprised a little bit. He's handled everything so well. He's so calm out there."
Coolness under fire. Kaepernick never seems to get stressed no matter the situation. Even when he's misfired, you can see him running over to the sideline to get the next play, a wry smile on his lean face.
"I've always been that way," he said earlier this year. "I try not to let things bother me when I'm out there."
And that's saying a lot when you have a heavy pass rush with people trying to take your head off.
Not many know that Kaepernick was adopted at birth by Rick and Teresa Kaepernick back in Milwaukee, Wisc. The Kaepernicks later moved to Turlock, Calif. when Colin was 4.
"We have two older children," Rick Kaepernick said last week. "My wife and I lost two babies, one at 31 days and four days, and the doctors told us not to have any more kids. Adoption was something my wife and I had talked about, so we went ahead with it.
"We said we would take a special needs child; cleft pallet a child missing fingers or toes. We went through an adoption agency. All they mentioned is that he (Colin) was a special needs child. It was a little different because of the mixed race situation."
In the early years, there were the second looks etc. whenever the family would go out in public.
Colin said people would do double takes, especially when they were checking into a hotel .He would be standing behind Rick and Teresa, and the desk staff would ask him if he needed help. He would point to his folks and tell the staff he was with them. More stares would ensue.
"When he was younger, he would get asked a lot to spend the night at a friend's house," Rick Kaepernick said. "He would tell them they would have to ask his mom and that she was sitting in the stands. They would ask where she was and Colin would point to Teresa (a blonde).
"One of the things moving out here (California), it's much more of a melting pot. It was a completely different setting than Wisconsin. We've always kept that sort of thing on the light side."
Rick and Teresa can sit in relative anonymity at Mackay Stadium.
"I sit in the crowd and nobody has a clue," Rick Kaepernick said. "We bought seats so we could sit where we wanted to sit. Colin gets tickets, but we give those to his friends or other family members.
"Last year the guy behind me was getting on Jeff (Rowe) a bit. He asked me if I had a son on the team and what number he was. At halftime, he was telling everybody. Colin was warming up on the sidelines, and the guy asked me what number did you say your son was?"
No doubt they know who he is now.
Thanks to a couple of ESPN performances against Boise State and New Mexico State, there probably aren't many college football fans or coaches who don't know about Kaepernick.
What many find amazing is that other than some Ivy League schools, nobody else other than Nevada offered him a scholarship for football. No doubt there are a few coaches around the country kicking themselves.
Because of a 92 mile-per-hour fastball, Kaepernick got baseball attention from schools like Notre Dame, Michigan, Fresno State, UC Davis and Tennessee.
"It was pretty intense with baseball," the younger Kaepernick said. "Most of the phone calls were for baseball. They all wanted me to sign early. I wanted to see what was going to happen with football.
"A couple of Ivy League schools talked to me about playing football and baseball. After what I've gone through here, that would have been such a commitment. When I visited with Nevada, it was strictly football."
Rick Kaepernick remembers talking to assistant coach Barry Sacks, who recruits the San Joaquin Valley.
"I remember him asking us 100 times if Colin was going to or wanted to play baseball," the elder Kaepernick said.
Colin Kaepernick admitted that he gets more of an adrenaline rush playing football.
"I've been playing since I was 8 years old," he said. "My family is a football family. I grew up rooting for the Packers and Brett Favre."
In fact, Kaepernick grew up wearing No. 4, but that currently rests in Marko Mitchell's locker.
Right now, Kaepernick looks plenty comfortable wearing No. 10, and he takes great delight in making life miserable for WAC defenses.
• Contact Darrell Moody at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (775) 881-1281
THE KAEPERNICK FILE
Hometown: Turlock, Calif.
Year in school: Redshirt freshman
Height/weight: 6-6, 215 pounds