PACIFICA — Seven-year-old Derek Herzog of Oakdale is missing two front teeth.
And just Saturday, Derek took a football to the face, tossed by none other than 49ers starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose arm strength has stymied even seasoned pro receivers.
Derek had "the best day of his life," his mom said, when he got to learn football skills from Turlock hometown hero Kaepernick. And catching that ball was "pretty much" the best part of that best day, said Derek, who added that the pass from Kap was a good one. "It hit me in the face, but I still caught it, though. It didn't hurt."
The Magnolia School second-grader joined 299 other football aficionados at Oceana High School in Pacifica on Saturday at the Kellogg's Colin Kaepernick Football ProCamp. At least two other local kids Hudsen Flores, 6, of Turlock and Justyn Velez, 7, of Ripon also attended the free camp.
No one disappointed
Participants got autographed photographs of Kaepernick, took part in skill contests and games, and posed for pictures with the quarterback.
But the highlight, of course, was the chance to play ball with the former Pitman High School standout who took over the starting quarterback job in the fall and led his team to the Super Bowl. What did the kids learn?
"How to catch, run, um, how to block, get around people and how to throw," Derek said. And what did Kap do with the young players? "He threw the ball to most of us, and he ran it to us," said Derek, who plays left linebacker for the rookie team in the Oakdale Stampede program.
Her son can't stop talking about how much fun it was, Sara Herzog said. "He's been telling us it was the best day of his life," she said. Derek wore his Colin Kaepernick Football ProCamp T-shirt to school Monday and was asked by classmates all about his big day. "They asked if I caught the ball, if I actually got to meet him."
Sara Herzog said she and her husband couldn't believe Derek got into the free camp, which was limited to 300 participants. "There were 6,000 on the waiting list," she said.
And she was as impressed by Kaepernick as all the kids were. "He's just so humble and down to earth, and he doesn't show any difference that he's an NFL quarterback, was just in the Super Bowl he was just out there having a good time."
She did note that he of the famously tattooed physique did let down the crowd at one point. "There were girls in the audience chanting at him, and he just was getting shy. He had a (ProCamp) T-shirt to wear also, which he put on over his other shirt and took that shirt off underneath, without having to take the shirt off in front of everybody. You hear the whole crowd go, 'Awwww.' "
She said the whole experience of the camp was "amazing" for Derek and the other kids. "It was good for the kids to see that there are people out there who do things like that and give back." Of Kap, she added, "I respect him so much."
Angie Duarte Smith, Hudsen Flores' aunt, echoed Sara Herzog's sentiments. "I think it's wonderful that Colin is such a great role model for our youth," she said in a comment on The Bee's Facebook page. Hud-sen and pal Justyn "learned a lot, loved meeting Colin and thought it was AWESOME that he threw a pass to them! These boys will remember this for the rest of their lives!"
Bee Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra contributed to this report.
Bee local news editor Deke Farrow can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2327.