Chris Ault: Colin Kaepernick is … the best Nevada Wolf Pack QB ever | NevadaAppeal.com
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Chris Ault: Colin Kaepernick is … the best Nevada Wolf Pack QB ever

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO – Chris Ault says that Colin Kaepernick is the best football player to ever play for him in his 26 seasons as the head coach at the University of Nevada.

“I’ve had a lot of great players,” Ault said this week. “Frank Hawkins, Charles Mann, Henry Rolling, Bernard Ellison, Eric Beavers, Chris Vargas. There’s a lot of them. But the best is the best.”

And the best, Ault said, is the 6-foot-6 senior quarterback who will lead the Wolf Pack against Boston College in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Jan. 9 in San Francisco.

“He’s not only setting school records,” Ault said. “He’s setting NCAA records. We’ve never had a player like that. So, yes, I would have to say that he is the best I’ve ever coached at the collegiate level.”

Kaepernick is tied with Nebraska’s Eric Crouch for the most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in NCAA history with 59. He is the first quarterback in NCAA history to pass for over 9,000 yards and rush for over 4,000 in a career. He is the first quarterback in history to pass for over 2,000 yards and rush for over 1,000 yards for three seasons in a row.

Kaepernick is so good, he is even creating new records. Last year he became part of the first backfield in NCAA history with three 1,000-yard rushers along with Vai Taua and Luke Lippincott. He owns the record along with Taua for most rushing yards by teammates in a career and most points scored.

“He’s done everything that has been asked of him on and off the field,” Ault said. “All these records are just the frosting on the cake.”

You can argue that he is the most productive quarterback in NCAA history, when you take into his account his ability to throw, run and score. But, like Ault said, you can’t argue that he is not only the best quarterback in Pack history, he is probably the best player in Pack history.

Kaepernick already owns most every record in Nevada history for quarterbacks and most of the running back records as well: Most points scored in a career (362 with Charvez Foger), most points in a season (120 this year), most touchdowns in a career (60 with Foger), most touchdowns in a season (20 this year), career total offense ( 13,996), career rushing touchdowns (59), career passing touchdowns (81).

When asked why Kaepernick is the best, Ault answered quickly, “You name it. In terms of leadership, performance, production, everything. He’s done everything. And the best thing about him besides all of those other things, he’s the most unselfish player you’ll ever see.”

Kaepernick is just the 11th quarterback who has started for Ault for more than a handful of games. The predominant starters in Ault’s head coaching career are: Jeff Tisdel (1976-77), Larry Worman (1978-79), Jeff Ardito (1980), Marshall Sperbeck (1981-82), Eric Beavers (1983-86), Jim Zaccheo (1987-88), Fred Gatlin (1989-92), Chris Vargas (1991-92), Mike Maxwell (1994-95), Jeff Rowe (2004-06) and Kaepernick (2007-10).

How does Ault rate his starting quarterbacks since he took over the program in 1976? We sat down with the Pack head coach recently and had him rate his past starting quarterbacks in certain areas:

Best overall leader?

Ault: “All of them had special qualities in that area. All of them could lead in their own way or they wouldn’t have been out there. Mike Maxwell, he was the best vocal leader. He wasn’t bashful about telling his teammates what he thought. There were times I’d hear him say something and even I would back off. Eric Beavers was like Kap. His first three years he led by example. But his senior year he became more vocal. Jeff Rowe, he was like a coach on the field. Vargas, all he had to do was walk on the field and he would lead his teammates. But they all were leaders in their way.”

The best raw talent?

Ault: “Mike Maxwell couldn’t run but he had everything else. He was big, strong, could throw and read defenses. Beavers had a lot of raw talent. Marshall Sperbeck, too. Kap was a great athlete. But as far as raw talent to play quarterback, no, he wasn’t one of the top guys we had when he first got here. Kap was probably the poorest thrower we ever had when he first came here. His mechanics were all off. He threw sidearm.”

The best runner?

Ault: “Besides Kap? Nobody could run like him. Once he turns that corner, he’s gone. But Beavers could run. Fred Gatlin, too. We didn’t run our quarterback like we do now. We used to run the Wing-T and spread offense. But Beavers and Gatlin could run well.”

Toughest quarterback you ever had?

Ault: “They were all tough, mentally and physically. If they weren’t tough, they wouldn’t have played. I’m proud of that. I’ll grind them in practice. I’ll test them. We’re still one of the few schools who let our quarterbacks get hit in practice. We make our quarterbacks lead the team in the weight room, in conditioning. They don’t lift the most weight but they are right there in the middle of things. That’s part of being a leader on this football team. That’s part of their obligation as the starting quarterback on this team.”

The best pure thrower?

Ault: “Vargas. No question. He was so great at anticipating where the receiver was going to be. Beavers, too. He could do that very, very well.”

Strongest arm?

Ault: “Probably Max. Kap can throw it a long way, too.”

Who knew his offense the best?

Ault: “I’d have to say Kap, Beavers, Vargas and Maxwell. They were all like coaches on the field. Different offenses, different responsibilities. Beavers and Vargas ran a balanced run-pass offense in the Wing T and they both did a great job. We also started to run our spread offense with Vargas (in 1992) and he was great. When we went to Division I-A in 1992, we knew we didn’t have the talent to run the ball like we did in the past. So we had to throw it and Varg took that right over that first year. Kap has taken the Pistol to another level. And Maxwell ran that spread offense very, very well.”

Most underrated quarterback you’ve had?

Ault: “The most underrated would have to be Jeff Rowe. Jeff Rowe was like our guinea pig in 2005 when we went with the Pistol offense. We had no idea if it would work. Everything was in the experimental stage at that point. Jeff will always be one of my favorites because he had to erase everything he had already learned in his career and learn an entirely new offense in one off-season. We threw a lot at him and he handled it as well as anybody could. He had to run an offense where most of his teammates didn’t even know what they were doing yet. But Jeff would coach them, tell them where to line up. He was a great student of the game. Jeff is really the Father of the Pistol Offense. If he wouldn’t have been able to run it, we might have just said, ‘Well, if an athletic, smart kid like Jeff Rowe can’t do it, maybe it’s not worth doing. Maybe it’s too much for a young guy to handle.’ But he did an amazing job and the Pistol is here to stay now and you should thank Jeff Rowe.”

Which of your quarterbacks remind you of you?

Ault: “My whole deal as a quarterback was that I was mentally tough. I wasn’t as talented as any of these guys, not even close. I was always just a sawed-off runt as a quarterback, even back in my day (late 1960s). But I’m a competitive S.O.B. And I require that competitiveness from all my quarterbacks. And they’ve all had it or else they don’t play. I couldn’t deal with a melancholy quarterback.”

Which of your quarterbacks in the past could also run the Pistol well?

Ault: “Beavers could do it. Vargas could do it. Maxwell would have had problems because he couldn’t run. But he could certainly do the throwing part of the offense. But Beavers and Vargas could do it all. Now, they wouldn’t run like Kap. But they could run a little. The beauty of the Pistol is that you can adapt it to the quarterback you have. But you have to be able to run a little and Beavers and Vargas could do it. We’d just throw more with them than we do now.”

Who was your best pocket passer?

Ault: “Vargas and Maxwell. Both of them just had a great presence in the pocket. It’s a feel. You can coach that a little but the guy has to develop a feel for it on his own. Vargas and Maxwell were great in the pocket.”

Since Kaepernick, Vargas, Beavers, Maxwell and Rowe dominated the above categories, we asked Ault to talk about his other starting quarterbacks down through the years . . .

Jeff Tisdel: Ault: “It was our first couple years (1976-77) and we ran the Wing-T back then. Tiz did a real nice job with it, very good at play-action. He wasn’t a running quarterback but he did a solid job running those teams.”

Larry Worman: Ault: “Larry Worman led us to our first undefeated regular season (11-0 in 1978). He was a transfer quarterback who ran the Wing-T in junior college. So he was more polished than Tiz. And he threw better than Tiz. But we were still mostly a running team in those days.”

Jeff Ardito: Ault: “Jeff was my guy. He started just one year (1980) and he did a nice job. He wasn’t all that gifted or talented. But he was an intelligent guy who just learned how to manage the offense.”

Marshall Sperbeck: Ault: “I love Marshall Sperbeck. We got him from Oregon State and he was very, very talented. He could really throw the football. People forget but he was the one who led us to that big win over Fresno State (in 1982). “

Jim Zaccheo: Ault: “Jim Zaccheo was a very talented quarterback. We only had him two years (1987-88) and he was the guy right after Beavers. We didn’t have a lot of talent around him those two years. I remember telling Jim his senior year, “If I had you one more year, I could make you a Division I-AA All-American. He was that talented.”

Fred Gatlin: Ault: “Fred had a very, very good freshman year. He’s was one of the best freshman in the nation that year (1989). He could throw it deep and he could run. Fred was just a great athlete, a lot like Kap. And Fred did a nice job for us the next couple years. But what happened to Fred is that he kind of saw Vargas in the rearview mirror a little bit. Every time Varg would come in he’d do something amazing and lead us to victory. And that probably got to Fred a little bit. He started pressing a little bit. I stuck with Fred a long time because he ran the offense well, he moved the ball and we were winning. But Varg just kind of took over there (in 1992).”