TURLOCK, Calif. — Phil Sanchez has cued up a highlight video on the computer in his office at John H. Pitman High School and it’s playing while he talks. The camera tracks No. 4 in green, a quarterback who’s thin but a head taller than most of the other players in the frame, scampering around the field, slinging throws on the run.
Now the quarterback is under pressure, stepping up in the pocket and flaring out to his right. Seeing a receiver 30 yards downfield, he points him toward the middle of the end zone and, running out of bounds, whips the ball back across his body. Touchdown. Sanchez, a Pitman counselor, backs the video up to marvel at the play again.
Later, asked to name the most impressive thing he saw Colin Kaepernick do in a high school game, former teammate Anthony Harding describes this same play. “I tell people, it does not surprise me at all (what Kaepernick is doing now),” said Harding, a running back who played at Fresno State. “Not one bit.”
“Everything he’s done at a national level, I’ve seen him do at the high school and even the Pop Warner level,” Harding said. “His demeanor, him having fun, him making all those throws, I’m not surprised. I think the biggest thing that I’m happy about is the whole world can see what we’ve seen.”
A nation’s eyes have been on Kaepernick since he became the starting quarterback of the 49ers midway through this season, and the spotlight figures to intensify on Saturday as he leads the 49ers into the postseason beginning with his first playoff start against the Green Bay Packers.
Some of the glare has deflected onto the Central Valley town of Turlock, where Rick and Teresa Kaepernick settled after moving the family from Wisconsin when Colin was 4 — and where Kaepernick is arguably the hottest name in town.
Colin Kaepernick jerseys at T-Shirts Plus sold out before Christmas. Main Street Footers, a hot dog joint on East Main, held a contest to design and name a dog after him – the Kaepernick Special, topped with chili, cabbage, red and yellow bell peppers and a spicy thousand island dressing, made its menu debut Thursday. At Wellington’s Pub and Restaurant, a chalk drawing of Kaepernick hangs above the bar.
“Turlock’s not known for a lot of other things,” said Ruben Hernandez, owner of the It’ll Grow Back barber shop near Main Street and Broadway. At points in history, he said, those things have included melons, turkeys and a high concentration of churches. A red banner on the shop wall reads, “You’re in 49ers Country.”
“Kaepernick is probably the biggest thing to happen to Turlock in a long time,” Hernandez said. “In a long time. It’s been kind of quiet.”
Turlock, population 69,089, sits about 12 miles down Highway 99 from Modesto and just north of Hilmar, home to the Hilmar Cheese Company, of which Rick Kaepernick is a vice president. Growing up in New London, Wis., Rick had gone to school thinking he would become a teacher and coach. Then, he said, he spent a summer working in a nearby cheese factory and plans changed.
Still living in Wisconsin, Rick and Teresa married and had two children — Kyle and Devon, both of whom work at Hilmar, Rick said — before they adopted Colin in 1988. They moved to Turlock several years later. It was there Rick really started to notice Colin’s athletic gifts — as well as one of his stronger character traits.
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