Hugs from the heart highlight Kaepernick's Modesto visit

ragostini@modbee.comJune 24, 2013 

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    alternate textRon Agostini
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Sports
    Bio: Ron Agostini has served as a sports reporter and columnist for The Bee for more than 35 years. His stories and columns have won state-wide, regional and national awards and he's a board director and past president of the California Golf Writers and Broadcasters Association. He's a graduate of Fresno State.
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— Rylie Dimas wrapped her arms around Colin Kaepernick's legs much like a daughter hugs her father.

They're not father and daughter, of course, but the affection was real. Rylie, 10, feels as though she knows Kaepernick, the already famous quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers.

Better still, she understands what he means to her and her Camp Taylor friends.

"I was already a fan of the 49ers," said Rylie, 10, a Rancho Cordova resident. "But when I got to know him, he was just like any other guy from any other town."

Well, Rylie, Kaepernick is like any other guy. And, in many ways, he's not.

Rylie and Camp Taylor, the Salida-based group for children with heart defects, gathered around Kaepernick, the centerpiece for Monday's Camp Taylor and Colin Kaepernick Against All Odds Golf Tournament at Del Rio Country Club in Modesto. The smiles beaming from all faces were genuine, and why not?

Kaepernick, a graduate of Turlock's Pitman High, lifted the 49ers to within 5 yards of a Super Bowl championship earlier this year. But what the NFL's newest star has done for Camp Taylor trumps all the incredible stuff he's accomplished on the football field.

Simply put, he's fallen hard for those kids, and now he's steering the valley — not unlike a Pied Piper — toward the same cause. More than 180 golfers dodged a few raindrops to spend a day with Kaepernick for the benefit that could raise $200,000 for Camp Taylor.

For Kap's Kids.

"I spent a day with them last summer, and it opened my eyes to a whole new world," Kaepernick said. "I can't explain it. If you came to the camp for a day, it would change your life."

It's changed Kaepernick's, for sure.

He didn't want to talk football this day. How he'll find receivers to replace the departed Randy Moss and the injured Michael Crabtree could wait.

"We're focusing on the kids today," he said.

Kaepernick loves them because he sees a need as well as a family connection. Two sons born to Rick and Teresa Kaepernick, his adoptive parents, died as infants because of heart disease.

With that, he advised his parents to send one of his first NFL paychecks to a charitable cause for children with heart defects. Soon came the hookup with Camp Taylor after Kaepernick's memorable visit there, and the dynamic quarterback found his charity vehicle.

Kaepernick's commitment to his family remains one of his most appealing qualities. His life starts with them and branches outward, not vice versa. He has responded to family tragedy with pro-action.

The NFL is littered with bad actors finding trouble after midnight, concussion scares and coaches reaching too far for success. Conversely, here's Kaepernick, 25, targeting his energy toward children seeking help.

What's not to like about that?

"My parents did a good job. They raised me to be this way, to treat people with respect and to give back whenever you can," he said. "This (Camp Taylor) is something that touched my life."

Before the golfers arrived, Kaepernick had spent time with his favorite kids. Later, they danced for him. There was an authentic feel to it all, a refreshing counterpoint to the too-slick-by-half packaging of made-for-public-consumption events often seen today.

"He's done a really nice job handling this," Rick Kaepernick said. "He knows what's important."

Another pleasing thing about Colin Kaepernick is his determination to stay grounded. He will not forget his roots. His surprise appearance last month at Pitman's graduation, all to honor his retiring coach, speaks to his character. And so did Monday's event at Del Rio.

Also hard to miss was the power of his magnetism. Who else could have pulled off such festivities on a rainy Monday in June? Kaepernick's star has not dimmed. Instead, it has brightened. Whether he's pitching cars for Jaguar or throwing 87 mph ceremonial fastballs at AT&T Park before a Giants game or presenting TV awards, he is hot to the touch.

"He turned down the Kentucky Derby and (Jay) Leno," Rick Kaepernick said. "He's learning how to say 'no.' "

Kaepernick also declined an invitation to the American Century celebrity golf tournament next month at Edgewood Tahoe because it would conflict with the start of 49er preseason camp. Yes, his priorities are in order. He has grasped the basic truth about today's culture: Banking six-figure checks for the Camp Taylors of this world is possible only if he's the freshest face in the NFL's in-crowd.

Football is stamped in capital letters on his to-do list, but not far behind is Camp Taylor. There will be more Against All Odds tournaments, it was promised, because a popular quarterback deems it so.

And Rylie Dimas still needs her hero to hug.

Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or (209) 578-2302. Follow Ron via Twitter @modbeesports.

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