49er's Kaepernick offers advice to St. Luke's football team
NEW CANAAN -- There are a few words of advice coaches often hammer on young football players. Some of those are trust, focus and hard work.
The St. Luke's high school football team is no different and it heard those words repeatedly this weekend as it trained on the school's field on a beautiful, warm afternoon. But those words did not come from coach Noel Thomas. They came from an NFL superstar.
"Stay focused. Learn everything week to week because it changes so drastically depending on who you're playing," San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick told the St. Luke's football team Saturday.
Personal distractions, Kaepernick said, have to stay off of the field. "Whether it's family, relationships, people asking you do different things -- those are the things that you need to block out so you can keep being successful."
Kaepernick volunteered his time Saturday after hearing about how the players helped organize a Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation fundraising event in Greenwich last fall. The organization sponsored the St. Luke's event as a way to thank the students.
Cynthia Kim, who founded and runs the organization along with her husband, David, have a mutual friend with Kaepernick. She said she hoped the team would see Kaepernick as "a mentor to look up to."
"He wants to be known as a man of character," she said. "I think that's good for these guys to see."
Kaepernick, who will be entering his second full year as the 49ers' starting quarterback, was born in Milwaukee, Wisc., before his adopted family moved just outside the Bay area to Turlock, Calif., for the majority of his childhood. He later attended the University of Nevada, the only school that offered him a scholarship, and was selected by San Francisco in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Last month, the 26-year-old signed a six-year contract extension with the 49ers worth $126 million, including $61 million guaranteed.
Since taking over the job halfway through the 2012 season, Kaepernick has led the 49ers to two consecutive NFC championship games and Super Bowl XLVII. Last season, he threw for 3,197 yards, 21 touchdowns and only eight interceptions while rushing for over 500 yards.
Kaepernick told the St. Luke's team that trust is what he likes the most about football.
"You can have 10 people do the right thing and one person do the wrong thing and you won't be successful," he said. "And to me, that's the most important thing. It's the trust, it's the camaraderie that you don't get in any other sport, and I think that's what drives me to play football and that's why I really love football."
Such words struck St. Luke's senior Alex Libman, a quarterback who wants to make it as far as Kaepernick one day.
"Trust is a big thing in football," Libman said. "You have to trust your receivers to be at the right spot at the right time. Trust your linemen to make the block. The whole thing revolves around trust. If you don't have trust, then the whole team sort of crumbles from the inside out."
Libman said his Kaepernick's words gave him hope as opportunities are not always the way to the top.
"He only got one scholarship to a school that's not really known for being a football school, and he's right now considered to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL," Libman said. "He showed that it doesn't matter if you only get one scholarship or you get 30, it doesn't define you as a person or as an athlete and he's a perfect example."
Hard work, Karpernick said, is the key to being a successful athlete. "If you want something, you have to work for it."
A 4.0 student in high school, Kaepernick told the St. Luke's team that it is possible to juggle school work with football.
"Your study throughout the week is what allows you to go out on a Sunday and play at a very fast pace," he said.
The Kims, who have four children at St. Luke's, two of whom are on the football team, were more than pleased with the NFL star's visit.
"He's got a great life story. He had a pretty hard upbringing. I think it's a great thing for kids to see," David Kim said.
Jake Dobbin, a sophomore who's just joined the team as a defensive tackle, said the quarterback's words were "pretty inspiring."
"He's faced his own adversities," Dobbin said. "It's interesting to hear from someone who's gone through things that a lot of people haven't."
Tia Gordon was one of many proud parents watching their kids play with Kaepernick.
"It's good for the boys to hear that from an NFL superstar," she said. "It gives them hope, it gives them the opportunity to know that hard work really does pay off. He's proof in the pudding."
When talking about his tattoos and "urban style," Kaepernick was asked to define "swag."
"Swag is your style, your personality though how you walk, how you carry yourself," he said. "You can be a doctor, a rapper and have your personal swag. You can look good in a lot of different ways."
Besides focusing on the field, Kaepernick said young players should set their own personal goals and focus on them as they move through high school and college.
"It's about `who do I want to be remembered as,' " he said. "'Oh, he was a good football player in high school and then nothing ever happened from there,' or `he played football in high school and went on to play in the NFL,' or `he played football in high school and went on and became a doctor or a lawyer.' It's really about how do you want to be remembered."
Kaepernick also told the team the high school age can be very challenging, but those challenges, he said, help define people's personalities.
"Keep fighting, keep going through those struggles, take advantage of them. Make it something positive in your life," he said. "Those challenges make you who you are."
email@example.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson