Harbaugh & Kaepernick: A pairing of gridiron geeks

Colin Kaepernick, Jim Harbaugh’s latest quarterback, sounds a lot like Todd Mortensen, Jim Harbaugh’s first quarterback.

The common thread? They both love football as much as, well, Jim Harbaugh.

Mortensen, Harbaugh’s quarterback at the University of San Diego in 2004, said he had a great rapport with his former coach. And he explained that their connection was based on a shared fanaticism for all things football.

“I wanted to come in on a Tuesday morning at 8 o’clock when I didn’t have class and watch film with him and study the game plan,” Mortensen said in January. “And just be a professional in the way that I went about my job as far as being a quarterback. And Jim’s the same way as a coach. He loves football. And he loves what he does as a coach. He can’t wait to come in and put the game plan together and watch film and get on the practice field and coach his players up. So Jim and I really shared that passion and enthusiasm for the game and we really loved doing it.”

It’s actually not just Mortensen and Kaepernick. Examine each of Harbaugh’s handpicked quarterbacks and the theme is constant.

Mortensen came by his passion honestly – he is the son of a former NFL quarterback. And so is Stanford’s Andrew Luck, who was religiously breaking down film in high school. Josh Johnson, who followed Mortensen at USD, is another football junkie. This 2006 story in the San Diego Union Tribune includes this revealing line: “His freshman roommates at USD fell asleep to the sound of Johnson studying videotape.”

Now comes Kaepernick, a former pitcher with a 94-mile-per-hour fastball who had college coaches and major-league scouts pursuing him at Pitman High School. Kaepernick turned down countless baseball scholarship offers to accept the one football scholarship offered he received from Nevada, a mid-level Division I program. The reason, of course, is because his first love was football.

I’m guessing Harbaugh loved that part of Kaepernick’s bio.

This article by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King highlights the connection between Kaepernick and his new coach and has a great quote from an unnamed draft analyst: “Harbaugh drafted himself,” he said.

Based on Harbaugh’s history, that would seem to bode well for Kaepernick, who could have a steep NFL learning curve.

Mortensen, after all, was a project who transferred to USD from BYU for his senior season. In three unsightly seasons as a backup at BYU, he completed 27 of 77 passes with one touchdown and four interceptions. After one season with Harbaugh, though, he was on the NFL radar. He signed free-agent contracts with the Lions and Patriots and played briefly in the Canadian Football League.

When I spoke to him January, Mortensen acknowledged that he’s wondered what could have happened if he’d spent another season obsessing over football with Harbaugh.

Kaepernick won’t have to wonder.

And if he fails to develop into an above-average NFL quarterback, it doesn’t sound as if it will be for lack of effort.

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