Every time San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick scores a touchdown, he curls his bicep and gives it a kiss.
That gesture, now known as "Kaepernicking," isn't about showing off, he said Friday morning at the Turlock Mayor's Prayer Breakfast. It's about faith.
The now-famous celebration traces back to a bitter newspaper columnist, who accused Kap of looking like a "thug" due to his copious amount of tattoos. The columnist said that Kap didn't have the right look, and couldn't be trusted to lead a team.
"It was something I took great offense to," Kaepernick said. "A lot of my tattoos are spiritual."
Kaepernick has hands clasped in prayer, Psalms etched on scrolls, and a banner reading "To God the Glory" inked into his skin. On his back, a huge mural depicts a war between angels and demons.
And on his bicep, that bicep he kisses after every touchdown, is one very important word: Faith.
"To me, that was my way of showing that not only are my tattoos important to me, there's a reason why they're there," Kaepernick said.
Kaepernick's roughly 45-minute speech, conducted as a Q-and-A session with his former pastor Rev. Ron Youngsdale of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, was wide ranging. But faith was the recurring theme.
Kap's entrance was greeted by cheers of jubilation from the crowd of more than 900 people – and one man loudly proclaiming that he "had a man-crush" on Kaepernick.
Kap, who has called Turlock home since age 4, admitted he has a bit of a crush on the city as well. He said the tight-knit City of Turlock helped inform his sense of morals and ethics, which he relies on today.
"Turlock has been an amazing place for me," Kaepernick said.
Faith has also provided that foundation of what is right and wrong. He said that faith has inspired him to stay on top of his workouts, and to do the hard work in the film room.
Fate, Faith Led To Football Career
And it was faith that ultimately brought Kaepernick to football.
In high school, most coaches and pro scouts thought Kap would be a baseball star with his 90-plus mph fastball, not a football pro. But Kaepernick had faith in what he believed was God's plan for him, and was fortunate to have his parents' support.
"In my heart, I feel like I am a football player," Kaepernick said. "This is what I love to do."
He got scores of offers to play college baseball, and even a MLB invite. Only one, last-minute offer to play football came in. He took it, despite people telling him not to.
"A lot of people said it was a bad decision," Kaepernick said.
Kaepernick capitalized on that opportunity, setting NCAA records as the quarterback of the University of Nevada, Reno Wolfpack.
It's the teamwork and camaraderie that drove Kaepernick to football. He likes to know he can rely on other people, and to have others relying on him as well.
"You have to trust 10 other people to do the right thing in order to be successful," Kaepernick said. "It's not just me out there."
Kaepernick likened the situation to Youngsdale's own role as a pastor.
"If you go into church and you don't have anyone else there, there's not a whole lot you can do," Kap said to laughter.
Fate, Preparation also Key
It was fate, Kaepernick said, that put him into a situation to succeed. Kap was adopted after his parents lost two previous children to congenital heart defect.
"If they don't lose those kids, they don't end up adopting me," Kaepernick said.
It was fate that allowed him to become a starting NFL quarterback, after former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith was injured in a game.
But it was faith and preparation that allowed him to succeed.
Kaepernick said he prays before and after every game. He attends bible study with fellow players, as well as weekly chapel.
The religiousness might be unexpected given the size, speed, and violence of football. But Kap said Christianity is common in the NFL, as players are often seen kneeled in prayer.
"It's amazing to me to see how spiritual a locker room can become before a game," Kaepernick said.
Then Kaepernick goes out onto the field and becomes a different person, he said. He goes to war for 60 minutes, and then he steps off the field and goes back to being a normal person.
Football a Mental Game
Kaepernick admitted he's still learning the game every day. He hopes to one day have his play be instinctual, based on the sort of knowledge Kap says makes Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning one of the best, despite his relative lack of physical skills.
The position of quarterback is 80 percent mental, Kap said.
"When you get to the NFL, you're trying to get a master's in football," Kap said.
Kap said he learns about 400 plays every week. That's on top of countless hours spent studying film of opposing defenses, working out, and getting treatment. There are no off days during the season, he says.
Kap spent a year and a half studying the offense from the sidelines before he even took the field. He credited Smith for being a "great guy" who helped Kaepernick learn the game from a veteran's perspective.
That doesn't mean it's all book learning. Sometimes, in the huddle, players' feel will lead to a change in plans.
"(49ers running back) Frank (Gore)'ll be back there, 'Naw, I don't wanna run it,'" Kaepernick said.
Since Gore's the one running the ball, Kap said he'll ask Gore what play he does want to run.
"It's actually worked out," Kap said. "He's made me look good."
Sometimes, Kap says his success is so unbelievable, it can't be credited to hard work or preparation.
"You know it was the Lord helping me through that situation," Kaepernick said.
Those bad plays, though, continue to run through Kap's mind. He thinks about the interceptions, even the ones that perhaps weren't his fault, and agonizes over how to avoid them in the future.
The Life of a Superstar, Kap Talks "Suspicious Incident"
Nowadays, as a superstar, Kaepernick says his life is different than when he was attending Pitman High School. He rarely goes to the movies. When he goes out to dinner, he has to ask for a back room to avoid hordes of crowds.
Even Christmas shopping was a challenge last year. He planned to buy his parents' presents, a matching pair of watches, at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday to avoid crowds as much as possible. Even still, he dressed with his hood up and his hat tilted down low.
"To me, I felt like I was in disguise," Kap said, noting that he felt like he was planning to rob a bank.
Recently, Kaepernick has been scrutinized in the media. Celebrity news blog TMZ reported that Kap was under investigation for sexual assault related to an incident in Miami; police later clarified that the incident was not under investigation, and it was only a "suspicious incident."
"This is the devil trying to tear me down and make a bad situation out of this," Kaepernick said.
According to various incident reports, a woman claimed she was was visiting the Miami apartment of Seattle Seahawks receiver Ricardo Lockette. Kaepernick and 49ers receiver Quinton Patton were allegedly present.
The woman said she mixed drinks for the players, but was told she had to smoke marijuana before she could drink. The woman then became lightheaded went to lie down in a bed, where Kaepernick allegedly began to kiss and undress her. He then left the room and they did not have sex, per the report.
Lockette and Patton then allegedly peeked in the room and she told the two NFL players to get out and asked where Kaepernick was.
The woman woke up in the hospital with no memory of how she arrived there. It was later revealed that Lockette called 911 to have the woman removed from the hotel room. Emergency services transported her to the hospital.
"We felt like I was put in a situation that was not necessarily because of my choices," Kaepernick said.
Kaepernick said he made the choice to remove himself from the bad situation as soon as possible. He said his exit came in an attempt to make the bad situation better.
Now, Kap says he's being more careful. He's reconsidering who his friends really are.
"It's changed my way way of thinking," Kaepernick said. "It's made me stronger. It's made me look at things differently,"
Kaepernick noted his thanks for the outpouring of support following the incident.
"It makes me happy to know that people stand behind me," Kaepernick said.
A standing ovation ensured as Turlock showed its support for Kaepernick.
Former San Francisco Giants pitcher Dave Dravecky, who emceed the event summarized the crowd's feelings.
"It really doesn't matter what you say," Dravecky said. "… We love you, and that's all there is to it."