A Look Back Through The Bowls: How Kaepernick Became Super

David Jack

Colin Kaepernick wasn't always the starting quarterback of the Super Bowl-bound San Francisco 49ers.

Kap, as he is affectionately known to his fans, wasn't even the starting QB of 49ers at the start of the season.

But the Pitman High School graduate has shown promise on every level through his career, the sort that has always led supporters to believe Kap do great things some day. Whenever he was given an opportunity, Kaepernick shined.

And, perhaps most interestingly, Kaepernick has played in a bowl game in every year he has been a starting quarterback.

Now, with the Super Bowl less than a week away, we look back at those bowls.

Harvest Bowl I
Oct. 21, 2004
Pitman 21 – Turlock 18
Kaepernick's stats: 114 yards on 10/19 passing, with 1 touchdown

That's right. Kaepernick was the starting Pitman High quarterback in the first-ever Harvest Bowl, the cross-town rivalry match-up that now holds the reputation of being the biggest game of the year.

Few observers gave the upstart Pride much chance of beating the historically strong Bulldogs. After all, it was the Pride's first season playing in the Central California Conference, and only Pitman High's third year of existence.

And, at first, those observers looked to be right.

Turlock led 10-7 as the half drew near, after an early sure-thing Kaepernick touchdown pass was dropped by top Pride RB Anthony Harding. But after a Kap scramble – now trademark – the Pitman QB found receiver Jordin Inabnit for a 40-yard TD completion just seconds before the break.

But Kap had one more unforgettable play in that first Harvest Bowl.

With 1:21 left to go in the game, and Pitman trailing 14-18, Kaepernick faced a fourth-and-two inside the Bulldogs' 10-yard line. Kap fumbled the snap on a called fly sweep, but kept his composure, diving forward to claim a first down. The play set up Pride RB Mark Runyan's game-sealing touchdown with 11 seconds left.

Harvest Bowl II
Oct. 22, 2005
Pitman 34 – Turlock 33 (OT)
Kaepernick's stats: 137 yards on 7/14 passing, with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions

Another Harvest Bowl, another dramatic finish in front of 7,000 screaming fans.

Pitman got out to an early lead after Turlock QB Cameron Martin threw three interceptions in the first half. But the Bulldogs would stage a comeback, with two touchdowns of their own in the third quarter, knotting the game at 21-21.

Turlock would score in the fourth on a 46-yard Keith Pace touchdown catch, but missed the extra point. Kaepernick led his team down the field for a Harding TD run to tie the game, but the Bulldogs blocked the point after, sending the game to overtime.

The Bulldogs went first in OT, claiming a gut-wrenching 7 points when Martin snuck in to the end zone on a fourth-and-one.

But then Pitman scored on the very next play from scrimmage, on a run from tailback Justin Plagenza. And, in a dash of daring, the Pride elected to go for a two-point conversion. A three-yard Harding sweep to the right was all it took to seal the game.

It was Harding who was the star of that Harvest Bowl – and that team, with well over 1,000 yards rushing in both 2004 and 2005 –with three touchdowns and 102 yards rushing in the second Harvest Bowl. Reading back through historical coverage, you'll find nary a mention of Kaepernick's performance, despite his 137 yards passing.

One last note on Kaepernick's high school performance before reaching college: at Pitman High, Kap was a pocket QB, running a Wing-T offense. The quarterback now known for holding the all-time single game NFL rushing record for the position, at 181 yards, had -21 yards rushing in his senior year at Pitman.

2007 New Mexico Bowl
Dec. 22, 2007
Nevada Wolf Pack 0 – New Mexico Lobos 23
Kaepernick's stats: 137 yards on 13/31 passing, 26 yards rushing on 12 carries

After a redshirt year at the University of Nevada, Reno, Kaepernick took over the role of starting QB in the middle of his redshirt freshman season, following an injury to then-starting quarterback Nick Graziano. Kap immediately wowed, nearly defeating nationally-ranked Boise State in quadruple overtime in his very first start.

The Wolf Pack would make the New Mexico Bowl that season, compiling a 6-6 record en route to the game.

Unfortunately, the New Mexico Bowl was a rough game for the Wolf Pack. Kaepernick and the Wolf Pack struggled to pick up first downs throughout the contest, punting 11 times, and ultimately failing to score.

Though the bowl game ended poorly for Kap, the 2007 season was outstanding. Kaepernick tallied 2,145 yards passing with an astonishing 150.8 passer rating, as well as 593 yards rushing.

2008 Roady's Humanitarian Bowl
Dec. 30, 2008
Nevada Wolf Pack 35 – Maryland Terrapins 42
Kaepernick's stats: 370 yards on 24/47 passing with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, 15 yards rushing on 9 carries with 1 touchdown

Kaepernick's 2008 Roady's Humanitarian Bowl performance was an unadulterated shoot-out, with Kap guiding Nevada's pistol offense to a T.

That's despite an ankle injury which waylaid Kap for much of the season, and limited his mobility in the Humanitarian Bowl.

Kaepernick repeatedly made big plays, like a 68-yard pass to the Maryland three-yard line.

Kap sat out the first drive of the second half due to his ankle injury, making way for Graziano to return. But Graziano threw two incompletions on the drive, leading to a Nevada punt. Kap returned to the game on the next drive, immediately throwing a 17-yard touchdown pass.

As the fourth quarter began, the Wolf Pack trailed 21-28. But Kap quickly tossed a 21-yard touchdown pass to receiver Marko Mitchell, tying the game.

The Terrapins would take the lead again, going up 42-28 after two successful drives sandwiched a failed fourth-and-12 play by Kaepernick.

Kap tried to make a game of it again, leading a 77 yard drive with 4:01 remaining, scrambling for a rushing TD despite his injured ankle. But Nevada botched the ensuing onside kick, ultimately ending the contest.

Kaepernick would end 2008 with 2,849 yards passing, a 132.1 passer rating, and 1,130 yards rushing, becoming only the fifth player in NCAA history to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season.

2009 Hawaii Bowl
Dec. 24, 2009
Nevada Wolf Pack 10 – Southern Methodist University Mustangs 45
Kaepernick's stats: 177 yards on 15/29 passing with 1 touchdown and 1 interception, 23 yards rushing on 13 carries

Another year, another disappointing bowl performance for the Wolf Pack.

SMU tallied 534 yards of offense, while Nevada had just 314. By comparison's sake, the Wolf Pack averaged 362.3 yards rushing alone per regular season game.

But Nevada was without two of its top players for the Hawaii Bowl, with two 1,000 yard running backs – Vai Taua and Luke Lippincott – sidelined for the game. Taua was ruled academically ineligible, while Lippincott was injured.

Nevada would not score until the third quarter, when kicker Ricky Drake nailed a 21-yard field goal. Kaepernick's first touchdown would come with just 1:04 left in the game, when he connected with Brandon Wimberly on a 10-yard TD pass.

Though the season ended with a whimper, Kap again recorded a 2,052 yard passing season, with a 139.1 passer rating, and 1,183 yards rushing. He became the first player in NCAA history to record back-to-back 2,000/1,000 seasons.

2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Jan. 9, 2011
Nevada Wolf Pack 20 – Boston College Eagles 13
Kaepernick's stats: 192 yards on 20/33 passing, with 1 touchdown and 1 interception, 22 yards rushing on 9 carries

Kaepernick capped his best year of college football with Nevada's first bowl win in five years.

Ranked 15th in the nation heading into the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Nevada faced the talented Boston College Eagles. Nevada's third-in-the-nation rushing attack would face the Eagles' top-ranked rushing defense.

Kaepernick got off to a rough start, losing a first-quarter fumble which resulted in a BC touchdown. Just five minutes later, though, the Wolf Pack would tie the score on a 27-yard pass from Kaepernick to receiver Rishard Matthews – off a scramble, naturally.

Nevada would never look back, taking the lead on a 72-yard Matthews punt return and adding two field goals before the night was through.

With an amazing 3,022 yards passing, a 150.5 passer rating, and 1,206 yards rushing, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl win was just icing on the cake for Kaepernick's season. Following that campaign, Kap became the only quarterback in the history of Division I football to pass for over 10,000 yards and rush for over 4,000 yards in a career, and the only player to tally 2,000/1,000 seasons in three consecutive years.

2013 Super Bowl
Feb. 3, 2013
San Francisco 49ers – Baltimore Ravens

Now in his first season as the San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback, all eyes are on Kaepernick as he prepares for the Super Bowl.

One question remains: Which Kap will we see in the Super Bowl?

Will it be the astonishing, come-from-behind Kaepernick of the Harvest Bowls and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, or the quarterback who was often stymied in college bowl games?

We'll find out on Feb. 3.

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