The year was 2007. Reno’s favorite son and quarterback of the University of Nevada, Reno quarterback, Jeff Rowe, graduated and was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals. With the new season approaching, position battles are always the buzz, but with UNR losing a four-year starter, surprisingly, the quarterback position was of little debate.
It was understood that the kid from “Cali” would be taking the reins. Sorry to burst your bubble, but this kid was not Colin Kaepernick.
This kid was Nick Graziano who led UNR to its third-straight Fremont Cannon victory over rival UNLV, which would be his last full game as a starter. “Graz” was impressive with 330 yards passing and three touchdowns against the Running Rebels. He had a firm grip on the starting position with over 1000 yards passing in only his first four games as a starter.
Now, tell me if this part gets familiar. On October 6, 2007 at home against the Fresno State Bulldogs, Graziano went down with what was later to be a season-ending leg injury.
Colin Kaepernick, enters stage left. The redshirt freshman wasted no time making an impression on the Wolf Pack faithful. “Kaep” threw for 384 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions while also rushing for 60 yards and a score in less than three quarters of play during the losing effort.
Kaepernick never gave the job back.
In 2008, Graziano backed up Kaepernick as the team finished second in the WAC. When the 2009 season rolled around, Graziano became an Arkansas Tech Wonder Boy, and led them to a playoff victory en route to being a Harlon Hill Trophy finalist.
As many know, Kaepernick went on to break many UNR and NCAA records, while also leading the team to an unforgettable overtime win against undefeated Boise State.
Flash forward to the present. Colin Kaepernick is in the same, remarkably similar, position he was in during his college days. The difference being Kaepernick was given a whole season to prove himself as the true successor at UNR, while he only needed a week to snatch up the starting job with the San Francisco 49ers due to the severity of the injuries of QB Alex Smith.
This is not to say that Kaepernick can’t fumble the starting job back to Smith with one bad start. In fact at the end of his breakout freshman season, Kaepernick flopped in the New Mexico Bowl in what would be the last game Graziano would miss due to injury. He threw for just 134 yards as UNR was blanked 23-0 by the New Mexico Lobos.
However, Kaepernick had proven himself to legendary coach Chris Ault as the future of the program. “Kaep” would reward him over the next four years. Throughout his football career, Kaepernick has shown he is a guy who puts up big stats with both his arm and his legs, while also taking care of the football.
Sure the timing is weird that Kaepernick would be getting a look this late in the season, but that’s the nature of his skills. There’s something calming about watching the guy throw darts downfield, and using his legs during goal-line situations.
Kaepernick will always be the guy who gains the trust from his respected coaches, and we are just beginning to see how rewarding that can be.