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Colin Kaepernick picked pro football over pitching

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Colin Kaepernick picked pro football over pitching

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Chicago Cubs scout Sam Hughes watches Colin Kaepernick nowadays and still wonders what the strong-armed NFL quarterback might look like on a pitching mound, as a power arm in the pros. It's hard not to, seeing the zip and accuracy on each throw, the competitive fire and fierce focus.

The Cubs never even watched Kaepernick throw a baseball before drafting him in the 43rd round almost four years ago. They did watch him throw a football for Nevada, and decided that college game told them more than enough.

Ultimately, the Cubs just couldn't lure Kaepernick away from his first love: football. Now, he's headed to the Super Bowl to lead the San Francisco 49ers against Baltimore on Feb. 3.

Hughes, the longtime national cross-checker in the Cubs' scouting department, and several others, including then-general manager Jim Hendry, figured they should give it a shot and hope Kaepernick might reconsider.

``Yeah, that wasn't happening,'' Kaepernick said with a smile Wednesday, shaking his head.

Hughes tried for two weeks to convince Kaepernick, who had made it all but clear he wouldn't sign. He was surprised anybody drafted him at all given he had been so upfront about sticking with football.

But Chicago's NFL sources - Hughes said three different teams - figured Kaepernick would be a late-round pick or even someone who might have to go the route of the Canadian Football League.

That seems so laughable now. The Niners picked Kaepernick in the second round of the 2011 draft, made him the starter midseason this year and now will ask him to carry them all the way to the franchise's sixth championship in what will be just his 10th career NFL start.

``I was looking at this tall, kind of gangly at the time quarterback that was super athletic and had this really long throwing motion,'' Hughes said. ``I was talking to some of my buddies at Reno and said, `Boy, I wonder if this kid's ever played baseball, he's got an arm stroke like a pitcher.'''

That sent Hughes on a fun little research project. Kaepernick regularly threw 90 mph in high school, but was now some 40 pounds heavier as a college football player.

He certainly would throw harder.

``So, I was definitely intrigued, bigger, stronger, more athletic,'' Hughes said. ``Colin had no idea we were even considering drafting him. I kind of caught him off guard when I called him after we drafted him. He kind of got a kick out of it and said his phone was ringing off the hook that he'd been drafted by the Cubs. He had no idea.''

Then-Nevada coach Chris Ault had the challenge of developing Kaepernick's football motion - and that wasn't an easy task with the QB having been a pitcher.

``His first two years he was a thrower from his pitching days. It was all sidearm,'' Ault said. ``That was a habit we had to break. You could see his throwing motion, timing and touch was there. His senior year I saw the whole package. He was a guy ready for the NFL who could do all things they'd like him to do plus run. Now I look at him with the Niners and Jim and those guys are doing a super job. He has all the throws. What I really enjoy watching is he really learned to put the touch on the ball when he has to.''

49ers coach Jim Harbaugh can appreciate the Cubs' attempt to recruit Kaepernick to baseball. He would have tried, too, had he been in their position.

``He's a man for all seasons,'' Harbaugh said. ``Tremendous football player, basketball player, baseball player, a tremendous athlete with a lot of gifts of God. And a tremendous competitive fire, readiness and willingness to compete, to be able to make cool-headed decisions under fire. Who wouldn't want a player like that in baseball or football?''

Or basketball, for that matter.

Kaepernick was a three-sport star at John H. Pitman High in Turlock, a couple of hours east in California's Central Valley.

At 6-foot-4 and about 180 pounds as a high school senior, he went 11-2 with a 1.27 ERA with two no-hitters and 10 complete games - now-retired Pitman coach Mick Tate couldn't remember Wednesday if there was a second, but the quarterback sure knew.

``There were two,'' Kaepernick said.

Kaepernick batted .313 with 17 RBIs and a .407 on-base percentage. In basketball, he averaged 15.4 points.

``The thing we're most proud of, those who coached him in high school, is we want to make them better people,'' Tate said. ``We didn't have to work very hard to make him a better person.''

And those close to Kaepernick had a pretty good idea which way he was headed.

``He was a phenomenal basketball player here,'' said Philip Sanchez, Kaepernick's high school guidance counselor who remains a close family friend. ``Don't forget that. People think of it as just baseball-football, no. He went from football, the very next day he was leading his team in basketball. Then the very next day when basketball ended, now it was time to start pitching. That's rare that you get kids who play three sports these days.''

The Cubs figured they had reason to be somewhat optimistic of swaying Kaepernick. They have had success drafting football players, such as pitcher Jeff Samardzija and outfielder Matt Szczur - a pair of former star college wide receivers who picked baseball.

And Kaepernick had tremendous ``upside,'' a common phrase the scouts use to describe potential.

The 49ers saw the same upside. Harbaugh made a midseason switch to him as starter over Alex Smith, the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick.

``We're not really surprised at his success, because he's always had success,'' Sanchez said. ``I'm just happy that the world has seen the person that we know.''

At Pitman, they sure appreciate Kaepernick to this day.

So do the folks in Reno.

During the San Diego State-Nevada basketball game Wednesday night, the plan was for everybody to pose Kaepernick style, flexing the right biceps muscle and kissing it - a new sensation known as ``Kaepernicking.''

Even the Cubs folks are cheering for him.

``I've followed him since the first time I saw him. He's a very entertaining, fun guy to watch, great athlete, great competitor, very good arm strength, good touch, good feel,'' Hughes said. ``After I drafted him, I talked to him and his father, Rick, four or five times each throughout a two-week period trying to convince him to give baseball a shot. I got to know him through several conversations and since then I've shot him a few text messages - in college after they beat Boise State, which was huge, and after he got drafted by the Niners. A credit to him, I talked to him over a two-week stretch and he didn't know me from Adam and he has returned each one of my text messages. That says a lot about the young man.''

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AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this story.

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Stephen Strasburg makes history at the plate against Atlanta

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USA Today

Stephen Strasburg makes history at the plate against Atlanta

Stephen Strasburg had the best hitting performance of his career against the Braves Thursday night, going 3-3 at the plate with two singles and a 420-foot three-run bomb. 

He didn't just set personal records but reached rare air in baseball history. He's the second pitcher ever with at least three hits, a HR, and five RBI since the DH debuted in 1973 and the fifth pitcher in the last 50 seasons to get two hits in an inning including a home run. 

Strasburg set franchise firsts with his performance, dating all the way back to the Expos. 

An extraordinary milestone for the Nationals' ace, hopefully Strasburg's performance will inspire the team during a crucial four-game series with Atlanta. 

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‘The Redskins love Alabama guys’: Washington could run old draft playbook in 2020 to fill huge need

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‘The Redskins love Alabama guys’: Washington could run old draft playbook in 2020 to fill huge need

Perhaps no position group on the Redskins has more questions or uncertainty than the wide receivers.

Josh Doctson enters the final year of his rookie contract, and has yet to record over 550 yards in any of his three professional seasons. Washington signed Paul Richardson to a five-year deal in 2018, but he just played in just seven games for the Burgundy and Gold in 2018 before having season-ending shoulder surgery. Second-year receiver Trey Quinn is expected to fill the role in the slot after Jamison Crowder departed for the New York Jets this offseason but has yet to prove anything on the NFL level. 

The Redskins addressed the position during the 2019 NFL Draft, selecting Terry McLaurin in the third round and Kelvin Harmon in the sixth round. But it's unclear how much either one will contribute to the Washington offense in 2019.

So, it's likely the Redskins will need to address the position during the 2020 NFL Draft, and probably very early on it. Well, this works in Washington's favor, because the 2020 wide receiver class is loaded. 

On a recent episode of the Redskins Talk podcast, J.P. Finlay and Pete Hailey spoke with NFL Draft expert Jordan Reid (no, not the Redskins' tight end) about the top wide receiver prospects heading into next year's draft, and which players the Redskins could potentially target.

Before diving into the top 2020 prospects, Reid gave an initial assessment of the current Redskins' receivers.

"The Redskins just don't have that headliner, top go-to guy," Reid said. "They were expecting Josh Doctson to be that when they did draft him in the first round of 2016. But he's had some injuries, and he's already come out and said he's looking forward to free agency. That just not something you want to hear."

Reid was high on McLaurin, though, the first receiver the Redskins selected in 2019.

"They drafted Terry McLaurin in the third round, I liked him a lot even going back to the Senior Bowl," he said. "I think he's going to have a really good year, not just as a receiver but the special teams phase as well. He's going to flash in a lot of ways."

As far as the 2020 draft wide receiver class, one school stands on top, and it's a school the Redskins are very familiar with: Alabama. The Redskins used their first-round picks in 2017 and 2018 on 'Bama guys and signed another Crimson Tide alumni this offseason in safety Landon Collins.

"We know the Redskins love Alabama guys, and there's a lot of [wide receivers] coming out this year," Reid said. "It's not just Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs is another guy that's getting a lot of steam. They're going to have the chance to get the receiver they want. This is a very special wide receiver class."

Crimson Tide receiver Jerry Jeudy is the consensus top receiver in next year's class, but Reid believes his speedy teammate could challenge him for that spot by season's end.

"With Ruggs, I think he's a bit more as far as polished a route runner [than Jeudy]," he said. "I think his hands are a bit better, and I wouldn't be shocked if he runs below a 4.3 at the combine. He can absolutely fly."

If the pair of Alabama receivers currently hold the top two spots for best wide receiver prospect, there's another guy who's right on their heels: Oklahoma's Ceedee Lamb.

"He reminds me a lot of DeAndre Hopkins coming out," Reid said on Lamb. "He's not a thick guy, but he plays much stronger than what he indicates. Very reliable hands, and his body control is out of this world. He had a one-handed catch against UCLA, it didn't count, but it's truly amazing."

As a true sophomore, Lamb totaled 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018. Sure, it may have helped to have Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray under center, but Lamb has proven he's an elite talent.

Two other prospects Reid is keeping an eye on are Colorado's Laviska Shenault Jr. and Texas' Collin Johnson.

"He's not as polished as some of these other guys, but he's more of a do-it-all type of receiver," Reid said on Shenault Jr. 

Where Shenault may be a do-it-all receiver, Johnson plays to his 6'6 size.

"He's a really good route runner," Reid said on Johnson. "It's just a matter of how consistently can he separate, and how fast he is. If he goes to the Senior Bowl, I think he can light it up."

While many of these guys seem like sure-fire guys, there's still a full season of football to be played before the draft. Players will rise, but just as many, if not more, will fall off.

"You just have to let this play out, that's what happens with the draft process," Reid said. "Guys fall off, and then you have guys that come out of nowhere. Quinton Williams from last year is a prime example. He was a 270-pound defensive end at this time last year; we had no idea who he was and he ends up being the No. 3 overall selection."

But if everything plays out close to how it's expected to, this wide receiver draft class will be one to remember. 

"This class is special man," Reid said. "I think it's going to rival 2014, with Odell Beckham Jr., Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and all those guys, Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams too. It's going to be very similar to that. It's very special."

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