The Cal-Hi Sports State Athlete of the Year recognition program might need to be expanded. Since the honors began more than 20 years ago, there has always been one boy and one girl State Athlete of the Year followed by one honoree for each CIF division.
Based on looking back at the best from the 2005-06, which we were compelled to do after Sunday’s NFC championship in which Pitman High of Turlock grad Colin Kaepernick led the San Francisco 49ers to a comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons, it seems like it would be a good idea to expand those honors, perhaps adding 10 additional state athletes of the year beyond that first group.
At the time, we did list several athletes of distinction in addition to the major winners and Kaepernick was one of those listed.
There’s just something special about high school athletes who can excel in more than one sport (although some of our Athletes of the Year are so dominant in one sport they are picked anyway). Kaepernick not only had a second sport in addition to football (baseball) but he also had a third (basketball).
The State Boys Athlete of the Year for 2005-06 was volleyball-basketball All-American Chase Budinger from La Costa Canyon of Carlsbad (now playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the NBA). For Division II schools, ironically, the one picked above Kaepernick was Richard Sherman from Dominguez of Compton. Sherman, who now plays cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks and may be a rival of Kaepernick’s for the next few years in the NFL, was the 2006 CIF state champ in the triple jump (50 feet, 8 inches) and also shined in football.
The only two others that would have been higher than Kaepernick on a state athlete of the year ranking for that school year would have been Toby Gerhart of Norco (football, baseball); Jahvid Best from Salesian of Richmond (football, track) and perhaps Rodney Glass from Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks (100-meter state champ in track and 2,100-yard rusher in football).
Kaepernick was an outstanding football quarterback at Pitman and eventually signed to go to Nevada, but he played on the same team as running back Anthony Harding, who rushed for nearly 1,700 yards and earned a scholarship to Fresno State. With Kaepernick and Harding, Pitman won its first-ever CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoff game with a 2005 triumph against Lincoln of Stockton, but then lost in the next round to West of Tracy (coached at the time by Steve Lopez, who we’ve known for many years).
In basketball, Kaepernick averaged nearly 16 points per game for the Pride with the highlight being the 31 points he had in a playoff loss to Oak Ridge of El Dorado Hills (which was led by the 50 points scored by future NBA player Ryan Anderson).
On the diamond, Kaepernick went 9-2 on the mound with a 1.27 ERA and led Pitman to a 26-6-1 record. The team also made it to the section finals where it lost to Elk Grove. He wasn’t the Modesto Bee’s Player of the Year, however, because Brock Floro of nearby Buhach Colony (Atwater) went 10-0 and had a higher batting average.
Kaepernick vs. Harbaugh
There are many from around Northern California who may recall watching Colin Kaepernick play football for Pitman of Turlock, but there’s at least one person who can say they saw both Kaepernick and his current 49ers’ coach, Jim Harbaugh, play as high schoolers.
Unfortunately, because it shows how old I am, that person is me. Harbaugh was seen during a game at Palo Alto in his senior season of 1981 against Mountain View. He was a highly regarded player within the CIF Central Coast Section at the time, and he was a quarterback who immediately passed the test of someone who could play at the next level. He had the size, athleticism and polish (probably from being a coach’s son) that colleges love. He eventually signed with Michigan.
Kaepernick was one of those players who greatly benefitted from attending the Nike Football Training Camp. He went to the one at Stanford in the spring of 2005 (which was one year before Harbaugh would have been there as Stanford’s head coach). I recall him standing out with his strong arm, ability to move around and he was quickly put into the top group (which are those quarterbacks that the camp coaches want to evaluate more closely for Elite 11 possibilities). He also was very thin and hadn’t been coached yet with a lot of the intricacies that many quarterbacks get at a young age these days. Colin is now 6-4, 230 pounds, but you’d be amazed at how slender he was in high school. To say he’s filled out in the last few years is an understatement.
All in all, if I were to rank the two as quarterbacks in high school, I’d give the edge to Coach Harbaugh.
The Kaepernick family’s last email
Both Colin’s father, Rick, and his older brother, Kyle, sent emails to us throughout the years that Colin starred at Pitman. The last one, which came from Kyle, included almost one full page of highlights.
These emails were always detailed and one thing we appreciate is that they never, ever degraded the accomplishments of any other athlete or team. It was always about what Colin did and why he should be an all-state player or state athlete of the year.
Kyle’s last email also stands out because it highlights Colin not just as an athlete, but as a student-athlete. The family was just as proud of him being the first-ever A. Dale Lacky Award Winner (the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section’s five top scholar-athletes) from the town of Turlock as anything else. Colin’s list of other colleges that he was accepted to also is revealing: Harvard, Dartmouth, Columbia, Michigan, Fresno State, UC Davis, BYU.
If he’d gone to Harvard, basketball star Jeremy Lin of Palo Alto would have been there at the same time. And if he’d gone to Michigan, he would have gone to the same college as Harbaugh. For what the University of Nevada did for him, though, there probably are no regrets.
And if Kaepernick can lead the 49ers to a win in the Super Bowl, that would make it four quarterbacks from Northern California to have done it since 2001. The list already includes Trent Dilfer of Aptos (2001 Baltimore Ravens); Tom Brady from Serra of San Mateo (2002, 2004, 2005 New England Patriots) and Aaron Rodgers from Pleasant Valley of Chico (2011, Green Bay Packers).
Move over Pennsylvania, here comes NorCal.
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