Emmett Middle School football coach Larry Nigro wore his autographed San Francisco 49ers No. 7 jersey to school Friday.
On Sunday, Nigro the former head coach at Emmett High and, more pertinently, at Pitman High School in Turlock, Calif. will be in New Orleans watching the 49ers real No. 7 in Super Bowl XLVII.
I wouldnt miss it. Its been on my bucket list, said Nigro, who has coached for 34 years. Ive got a good reason now.
His good reason is Colin Kaepernick.
The former Nevada star, in his second NFL season, took over the 49ers starting quarterback job in November and has led the franchise to its first Super Bowl since 1994.
Kaepernick was 6.
Nigro (pronounced NIGH-grow) was two years shy of becoming head coach at Emmett, where he spent six seasons from 1995 to 2000.
He became head coach at Pitman in 2001, and thats when he met Kaepernick, then an eighth-grader. Nigro was a first-year coach looking for football players. Kaepernick was one, though he was far from special back then.
Tall, lanky, growing into himself, Nigro said.
As a freshman, Kaepernick played some quarterback but didnt start. As a sophomore, he earned the spot. As a junior, he convinced Nigro that he was something special.
His intelligence. His competitive drive. The way he controlled the game. His skill at running the fly offense part option, part veer running attack, part dropback passing game. His leadership qualities.
All stood out to Nigro.
So, too, did his arm strength.
Hed break my fingers when I played catch with him, Nigro said.
Kaepernick led Pitman to a third-place finish in their 146-school section in California and convinced his coach that he had a future in football.
Except few others agreed.
An excellent high school pitcher, Kaepernick was more heavily recruited in baseball.
But his heart was with football and Nigro took his quarterback on the road, visiting campuses and camps, including Boise State.
No one bit.
Nigro said 34 college football teams passed through Pitman during Kaepernicks senior year. A few thought hed make a good safety.
I would leave shaking my head, scratching my head. I know what I see, Nigro said.
I marvel when I watch him now, but Im not surprised because I saw it at high school just at a different level.
Nevada assistant coach Barry Sacks (a former Boise State assistant under Pokey Allen), after watching Kaepernick play in a basketball game while battling a fever his senior season, convinced Chris Ault the Wolf Pack should take a chance on him.
Nigro told Kaepernicks father that Nevada was a good fit, particularly this new Pistol offense that the program had just implemented.
Its close and this offense, I think its perfect for him, Nigro said.
Kaepernick redshirted his freshman season at Nevada and Ault, a Hall of Fame coach, wasnt sure what he had. He considered moving Kaepernick to safety.
But when an injury forced Kaepernick onto the field the next season, it didnt take him long to prove that Nevada had found its quarterback.
In his first start, Kaepernick nearly upset Boise State, pushing the heavily favored Broncos to four overtimes in Bronco Stadium. He became the first college quarterback to pass for 10,000 yards and rush for 4,000 in his career.
In 2010, he led Nevada to an upset of Boise State, derailing the Broncos Rose Bowl hopes which helps explain the dirty looks Nigro got Friday when he wore his jersey to school.
I hear about it all the time, he said with a laugh. The Vandals love me.
Even as Kaepernick has moved on to the NFL and into the spotlight, he has remained in touch with his former coach. The pair exchange text messages. Nigro will visit with Kaepernicks family in New Orleans. He has attended 49ers games in San Francisco as a guest of the quarterback.
Hes been really gracious to me, Nigro said. Im real proud for him and happy for him. I havent talked to him on the phone for a long time once he gets off the David Letterman show hopefully.