49ers with Matt Barrows

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49ers' Kaepernick is an uplifting presence

07/28/2013 12:00 AM

08/12/2014 3:21 PM

SANTA CLARA – Anyone worried whether Colin Kaepernick's sudden celebrity has altered the 49ers' quarterback or turned him Hollywood-soft need only arrive at the team practice facility at, oh, 5:55 on any given morning.

There you'd find Kaepernick's white Jaguar sedan – recompense for one of the ads he shot this offseason – in the first stall of the parking lot and Kaepernick on a bench in the weight room. Or sprinting across the practice field. Or tethered, via a 10-foot chain, to a stack of 35-pound plates he's dragging across the turf.

Michael Wilhoite, a young reserve inside linebacker eager to stay on the squad last year, said he'd routinely arrive before sunrise intending to be the first player in the weight room. Instead, he'd find Kaepernick, then a backup to Alex Smith, had beaten him into the office.

"And it's the same situation this year," Wilhoite said. "You walk in and he's already drinking his protein shake. Because he's already done with his workout."

Kaepernick's fame hasn't dimmed his work ethic, and it hasn't changed his everyman appeal, either.

Coach Jim Harbaugh said he's never seen a quarterback who moves among different age groups, different cliques, different positions in the locker room like Kaepernick. That's what makes him a unique leader – he not only has everyone's respect, he has everyone's affection.

"You don't always see that, but I see that with Kap," Harbaugh said. "He's universally respected in the locker room and loved by his teammates. I guess I see that from the 25-to-35 demographic, too, buying jerseys. People relate to him. They like his company, they like being around him, and I've noticed that very much from our team."

Indeed, universality has become Kaepernick's signature.

His biological parents are biracial. He was adopted by a Midwest family who moved to California. He's a quarterback who's known as much for his running ability as his powerful right arm.

The notion his tattooed arms and torso make him appear thuggish – silly and old-fashioned when it was written in the Sporting News in November – seems even more absurd now after an offseason when advertisers approached him in droves. His body art literally has become a selling point.

Buttoned-up Jaguar shot a series of commercials with Kaepernick in its F-Type sports car in May. He also has deals with Nike, MusclePharm, Yahoo Fantasy Football and SK Energy, an energy drink created by rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson.

His No. 7 jersey has been the league's top seller since April. And further evidence an inked-up athlete is no longer seen as menacing – he's wildly popular among children. Kaepernick found that out when he was mobbed by kids at an Xbox event in Corte Madera last month.

When nose tackle Ian Williams visited a Boys & Girls Club in his native Orlando, Fla., this offseason, the kids there politely asked about him, the hometown hero, but they really were interested whether Williams ever hung out with Kaepernick.

"It was, 'Do you know Kaepernick? I mean I like you, but I love Kap! I want his jersey!' " Williams said with a laugh.

Williams knows the quarterback quite well. He and Demarcus Dobbs, two undrafted defensive linemen in 2011, were part of Kaepernick's rookie class. They remain among his closest friends on the team, heading to his house to play video games or chatting about Kaepernick's favorite topic – sneakers.

"He'll walk off the practice field and he'll headbutt Justin (Smith) or Ray (McDonald)," Williams said. "He's still the same. He's still focused. He's a good guy. He's my boy."

Another indication Kaepernick doesn't feel his status and celebrity have put him above his mates: He anticipates repercussions from perhaps his most well-known offseason venture, the ESPN The Magazine cover from earlier this month in which tattoos are the only thing he's wearing.

So far, Kaepernick said, there have been no related hijinks. But he knows they're coming.

"I haven't had anything real bad yet," he said. "So I feel like they're plotting on me right now."

Wilhoite insists the quarterback has nothing to fear.

"No, I give him props," he said of the magazine shoot. "It takes a lot of guts to do that. He worked hard on his body, and he's always in the weight room. So I think everything he's getting right now he deserves."

Read Matthew Barrows' blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320. Follow him on Twitter @mattbarrows.

About This Blog

Matt Barrows was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Sacramento Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the San Francisco 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green. Reach Barrows at mbarrows@sacbee.com.
Twitter: @mattbarrows

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