Kaepernick still best of top local stories in 2013

ragostini@modbee.comDecember 28, 2013 

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick of Turlock remains the darling of the area after leading SF to the Super Bowl in January. Kaepernick has the 49ers back in the playoffs this year, his first full season as the starter.


Colin Kaepernick’s shoulders sagged like cardboard in the rain. A single TV camera dogged his every step as the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers worked the postgame press conference after Super Bowl XLVII, the greatest disappointment of his young career.

“I thought I made too many mistakes to win,” he summarized in his familiar economy with words. All he was doing, of course, was bearing the burden of all quarterbacks – blaming himself for the wrongs of an entire team.

In truth, Kaepernick, the pride of Turlock and Pitman High, had cemented his status as one of the brightest and most appealing young stars of the NFL. He had become a starting quarterback in the Super Bowl in only his 10th career start, the third fewest in SB history.

And when he hopped onto arguably sport’s most glamorous stage, he delivered. Kaepernick completed 16 of 28 passes for 302 yards and one touchdown, rushed for a TD and engineered a stirring rally from a 28-6 deficit.

Consider: He and some obscurity named Joe Montana are the only QBs in the history of the Roman-numeraled classic to pass for more than 300 yards and rush for more than 50 yards.

That’s rare air.

But Kaepernick’s focus locked in on the most important numbers – Baltimore 34, San Francisco 31 – and that he and the 49ers missed the greatest come-from-behind Super Bowl win by a scant five yards. Had he and the 49ers finished the rally, they might even have shared top billing with the weird power outage that memorable night in the New Orleans Superdome.

“Still not really over it,” he told Sports Illustrated last summer. “It feels like something was stolen.”

Regardless, Kaepernick, 26, is the most recognized sports star this portion of the valley has produced. Anything he does, from a public appearance at an awards show to spearheading a fundraising golf tournament for his beloved Camp Taylor, is reported from coast to coast. His No. 7 jersey is the NFL’s most purchased.

Those are among many reasons why Kaepernick, for the second straight year, is the runaway selection as The Bee’s top local sports story of 2013.

A drum roll, please, for The Bee’s Top 20:

1 Kaepernick took only a few days off after the Super Bowl and resumed training with teammates in Atlanta. His work ethic is admired in the 49er locker room and, equally important, eases the transition from former quarterback Alex Smith, now the successful QB for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Since he took over for San Francisco, Kaepernick is a better-than-OK 18-7. This year, the numbers are 11-4 going into today’s regular-season finale at Arizona. Kaepernick has struggled at times this season, though he’s missed injured receivers such as Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham.

A more definitive barometer is what he’s done during the pressure-cooker of December – eight touchdown passes against only one interception while the 49ers have built a five-game winning streak, the NFL’s longest active run.

The result is a playoff berth in the pocket and, just maybe, another chance for Super Bowl glory.

2 Who could have predicted that Harvest Christian High in Merced would produce the most decorated athlete in Cal State Stanislaus history? Those long odds were beaten by Karenee Demery, who was named the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s Division II National Player of the Year. It was the third national player of the year award for Demery, who scored an impressive 21 goals, including six game-winners, and 10 assists for a nation-leading 52 points. She led Stanislaus to a 16-0-2 regular-season record, the first team California Collegiate Athletic Association team since 1998 to go unbeaten. Only a heartbreaking loss at home kept Demery and the Warriors from further history-making in the NCAA Tournament.

3 No team in state history, big or small or public or private, played 32 games in back-to-back seasons like the Central Catholic Raiders. Better still, the Raiders went 29-3 and claimed back-to-back CIF Division 4 state titles, the second one a 36-23 victory over Bakersfield Christian earlier this month in Carson. The win proved more difficult than last year’s 66-7 rout of Santa Fe Christian, but CC accelerated from a slow start to its traditional dominating physical power. The Raiders overcame the loss of the injured battering ram running back Matt Ringer (2,348 yards) with brothers Reggie and Montell Bland, who combined for three touchdowns. Other heroes abounded but, in the end, the Raiders stood alone as the only team in Stanislaus District history to take home the grand prize for two straight years.

4 Few reach the pinnacle of their chosen sport. Modesto’s Jon Olsen, a math teacher at Prescott Junior High when not logging mile after mile, has raced to the top of the rigorous world of ultrarunning. Last May in Holland, Olsen won the International Association of Ultrarunners 24-Hour World Championships, completing 167.568 miles despite a hip injury. His distance was the second-best among U.S competitors in the history of the race. Olsen also led the U.S. men’s team to victory. “I wanted to be the guy the team could lean on during the race,” he reflected.

5 Modesto’s Michael “Mayday” McDonald, 22, one of the youngest stars in the UFC, bounced through an emotional 2013. It started with a bantamweight title shot in London in February, when McDonald stunned Renan Barao in the first round before he eventually submitted. McDonald, who trains in Oakdale, answered with a lucrative win over veteran Brad Pickett in Boston. He rose to No. 3 in the rankings until his fight in Sacramento two weeks ago against the No. 2-ranked hometown favorite Urijah Faber. McDonald (16-3) never got started as a crowd of about 12,000 at Sleep Train Arena celebrated Faber’s finishing guillotine before the end of the second round. In a classy gesture, McDonald raised Faber’s arm.

6 UCLA’s first national baseball championship was fueled by pitcher Nick Vander Tuig of Oakdale and third baseman Kevin Kramer of Turlock. Vander Tuig went 14-4, none bigger than the 14th, when he limited Mississippi State to five hits in eight innings as the Bruins rolled 8-0 for the title. It was Vander Tuig’s fourth straight postseason start, and he allowed only one earned run in 21-plus innings over his last three starts. Kramer also made major contributions to this pitching-defense juggernaut (49-17). He had two hits, drove in a run and scored another in the final game.

7 Larry Shimel, the only head football coach Big Valley Christian ever knew, left a trail of football good will throughout the district. He served as an assistant coach at Modesto Junior College, Davis, Livingston, Atwater and Downey and was the head coach at Hughson, Modesto, Modesto Christian and Big Valley. Last September, Shimel collapsed in front of his special education class at Modesto High and died of an apparent heart attack. Not surprisingly, two schools and all district football fans felt a tremendous loss. His BVC team agreed to play its scheduled game later that week against Central Valley Christian, and the game became an emotional tribute to one of the district’s best-liked coaches.

8 Ja’Quan Gardner stands only 5-7 but good luck trying to catch him, much less tackle him. The elusive Central Valley High senior rewrote the local record books in a season-long yardage duel against Ripon Christian’s Andrew Brown. Gardner eventually replaced Merced’s Freddy Bland as the district’s career rushing leader with more than 6,000 yards, wrapping it up with a single-season record 2,462 yards and 27 touchdowns. His final game, a wild 69-55 playoff loss at Manteca, saw Gardner at his best with 373 yards and four touchdowns against the eventual NorCal finalist Buffaloes.

9 Doug Fister, the 6-8 right-handed pitcher and Merced native, served the Detroit Tigers well the past two seasons. In 2013, he went 14-9 with a 3.67 ERA and was hard to miss in the playoffs. He allowed three earned runs in a six-inning no-decision against Oakland and then got a six-inning win against Boston in the LCS. Later, the former Golden Valley, Merced College and Fresno State star was traded to the Washington Nationals in an appealing move from one contender to another. He’s now relocated in the DH-less National League, a promising new start for the lanky pitch-to-contact specialist.

10 Modesto’s Karlee Bispo enjoyed a spectacular four-year career at Texas, earning All-America honors 18 times, seven as a senior in 2012. But one of her most noteworthy achievements happened last August when she helped her USA 4x200-meter freestyle team win a gold medal at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona, Spain. Bispo, a Downey graduate and former Big 12 Conference Swimmer of the Year, swam the third leg of the relay and eventually handed off to Olympic star Missy Franklin. The Americans won in 7 minutes, 45.14 seconds, overwhelming runner-up Australia by nearly two seconds and third-place France by three. Bispo was the only member of the winning team who qualified to receive the cash prize – $15,000.

11 Isaiah Burse didn’t even take a redshirt season at Fresno State. He went from catalyst to a state champion at Modesto Christian in 2009 to immediate contributions for the Bulldogs. Before his career ended – a six-catch, one-touchdown performance during the loss to USC at the Las Vegas Bowl – Burse became one of the most productive multi-threat players in Bulldog history. The slotback, no doubt taking advantage of the laser arm of quarterback Derek Carr, topped the 1,000-yard mark in receiving as a senior. In fact, Burse, Davante Adams and Josh Harper all scaled the 1,000-yard mark. That’s only the fifth time a trio of receivers from the same team has done that in FBS history.

12 Israel Saavedra was called “The Natural” by his father Angel, which was heady praise for a 3-year-old. Saavedra has lived up to all the advance billing. Last winter as a Modesto High freshman, Saavedra became only the 11th freshman to win a California state wrestling title. He built a 48-1 record, closing it in the pressurized cauldron of Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield on finals night. Saavedra took the 113-pound title with a dramatic 5-3 overtime victory over Sean Williams of Lemoore. The Modestan was awarded a stalling point for the tie with only three seconds left in regulation. Then in overtime, Saavedra countered Williams and scored the winning takedown. Later, he placed third at Flo-Nationals.

13 The Modesto Christian boys had not risen to such an impressive stage, in this case the NorCal Open semifinals, in 12 years. The Crusaders (29-4) were back, all right, as Richard Midgley – the former MC and Cal star – wrapped up his first season as co-coach with Gary Porter. A slow start proved decisive against Archbishop Mitty, however, and Modesto Christian fell 58-54 on the Monarchs’ home floor. The Crusaders hoped to play for a title at the state’s highest level, as Midgley and Chuck Hayes did in 2001. This season’s star was Raymond Bowles, a four-year starter (he joins Michael Porter, Adrian Oliver and Reeves Nelson in that category) who signed to attend Pacific.

14 Obstacles blocked the path of the 2013 Modesto Nuts. Lenn Sakata, their veteran Opening Day manager, was replaced by Fred Nelson with 53 games left in the regular season. They also struck out an alarming 1,372 times, the third-most in the history of minor league baseball. To their credit, the Nuts pulled together and finished on a 17-4 blitz and annexed a third straight California League second-half title. Personifying their team was catcher Ryan Casteel, who managed only six total home runs in three previous seasons. In 2013, he swatted 22. But in the end, Modesto was swept out of the playoffs by the Visalia Rawhide. True to form, the Nuts fanned 16 times on elimination night.

15 Bob Thomason always has been considered a homegrown coaching product, given his years at Escalon, Turlock, Columbia College and Cal State Stanislaus. He closed a distinguished 25-year tenure at Pacific, his alma mater, and led the Tigers to a Big West Conference Tournament title over Long Beach State. That earned Pacific (22-13) its fifth NCAA Tournament appearance and an eventual 78-49 loss to Miami. Thomason’s teams were 437-321, a strong record that allowed him to go out on his own terms.

16 Modesto Junior College sophomore Tim Richard put together one of the greatest performances by an MJC swimmer last spring at the State Championships at East Los Angeles College Swim Stadium. The Downey graduate won three individual events, not unlike John Monnich’s state triple in 1987. The 6-6 Richard captured the 200 individual medley, the 100 breaststroke and the 200 breaststroke. He broke Bryan Haile’s school record in the 200 breast with his 2:00.6. It came as no surprise that Richard was named the Male Swimmer of the Meet.

17 The family of brothers Nate and Zach Sudfeld, both graduates of Modesto Christian, must have compiled some huge frequent-flyer mileage this season. Both excelled at different times and different levels. Nate, a sophomore quarterback at Indiana, appeared in all 12 games for the Hoosiers and his strong arm was crucial to four of the team’s five wins, including the program’s first-ever victory over Penn State. Nate passed for 2,523 yards and 21 touchdowns. At the next level, Zach parlayed a surprisingly strong preseason camp into a roster spot for the New England Patriots. Though it was a major feat for an undrafted free agent, Zach didn’t catch a pass in three appearances and was put on waivers. There to pick him up were the New York Jets, however, and the former Nevada standout has caught four passes for 56 yards.

18 The MJC Pirates were struggling at 3-4 when they shocked previously unbeaten American River, the state’s No. 3-ranked team. Their confidence spiked, and the Pirates (6-5) won three of their last four and tied for second in the tough Valley Conference. They saved their best for last, a 48-39 win at Santa Rosa in the Golden Valley Bowl for MJC’s first road bowl win since its epic 11-0 season in 1980. TeeJay Gordon, the Pirates’ plucky quarterback, will leave the school as its all-time leader with 444 completions. He guided MJC’s nonstop offense to 43.9 points a game and 537 yards per game, the latter number third-best in the state.

19 Manteca’s massive offensive line punished opponents with straight-ahead thrusts that opened running lanes for running back Alex Laurel (1,910 yards, 35 rushing touchdowns). The Buffaloes (13-2) had not won a playoff game since 2007, but they made up for lost time with a memorable run that produced their fourth section title since 2000. Coach Eric Reis picked up his 100th career win along the way, and Manteca boasted the state’s No. 3-best offense at 48 points per game. The Buffaloes’ quest to reach a state final fell short in a tough loss to Enterprise of Redding.

20 One of the behind-the-scenes heroes of the Modesto Relays was Bill Moorad, the business manager of the Biggest Little Track Meet In The World for 55 years. His bio spanned the local sports scene – a tackle for Hughson High and MJC in a career that would have continued at Illinois if not for an injury. Moorad also was one of the founders of the Sportsmen of Stanislaus. His son is former super-agent Jeff Moorad who became a minority owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks and, later, the San Diego Padres. Bill Moorad died last March at 86 and his funeral drew a large crowd of family, friends and admirers. “The first call,” Jeff said at the service, “always was to him.”

Honorable Mention

• Enochs’ Faith Makau wins Section Masters and places sixth at State in the 800 meters.

• Gregori High dominates winter sports.

• Turlock mourns the death of longtime swim coach Steve Feaver.

• Oakdale tops Central Catholic in all-district section baseball final.

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