Tommy Mendonca thinks back on his high school years and wonders what might have been.
What if Turlock hadn't opened a second high school in 2002, spreading the town's historically fertile athletic crop between two schools?
"I wished we hadn't split schools at that point," said Mendonca, a 2006 Turlock High grad and Fresno State College World Series hero who will be reporting to spring training with the Oakland A's next month. "That would have been one of the most athletic classes ever to come through Turlock High."
As a Turlock Bulldog, competing in football and baseball, Mendonca never was on a varsity team that beat Pitman losing every contest to a group of Pride players that included San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
"I dropped an interception my junior year that would have let us beat Pitman," Mendonca said, recalling the first-ever Harvest Bowl, played in 2004. "Colin was a great athlete. I thought he'd be more productive in baseball than football, but I guess he took the right path."
It's been well-documented that Kaepernick was a three-sport standout at Pitman. As a senior, he made The Bee's all-district first teams in football and baseball.
He also was a basketball standout, though contrary to what was reported during Fox's telecast of the NFC championship game last weekend, Kaepernick was not an all-state selection in basketball, or any sport for that matter.
But the experience of having played at a relatively high level in three sports created the foundation for the elite athlete now leading the 49ers into their sixth Super Bowl.
Such is the assertion not only of Mendonca, but of two coaches who were on different sides of Kaepernick's competitive nature in high school.
"A lot of parents believe that kids have to specialize, but Colin is a well-rounded player and athlete because he played three sports," said Larry Nigro, who was Kaepernick's football coach at Pitman and now teaches and coaches in Emmett, Idaho.
"Playing three sports is such a tough thing to do," said Nigro, who will be in New Orleans for the Super Bowl. "That part of his life helped him develop into who he is today. A lot of kids and parents can take a look at that and learn. He'll be an asset and a team player no matter where he goes in life, and those are assets learned by being around a variety of situations and people."
Turlock High baseball coach Mark de la Motte, whose teams were on the receiving end of Kaepernick's pitching prowess, also credits cross-sport competition for much of Kaepernick's development.
"He's an awesome young man," de la Motte said. "You like to see good things happen to good people, even when they're a Pride. It's like there's no such thing as pressure to him. Nothing fazes him because he's been in so many different situations, in different sports.
"I always tell kids to play as many sports as possible. If they can play two sports, great, but three sports is pretty tough.
"These days, it seems to be all centered on showcases and individual skills instead of competing and learning how to win. That's what we're all fighting as coaches. Kids can wait until college to specialize, as far as I'm concerned."
Pitman basketball coach Harvey Marable considers himself blessed to have had such a well-rounded athlete for two years.
"He was a three-tool player," Marable said. "He was intelligent, athletic and had a good work ethic. When you have that in your best player, it makes the season a lot better and a lot easier.
"He also showed that you can play three sports in high school at a great level and it won't hurt you when you go on to college."
Mendonca credits high school football for giving him an athletic toughness that he has been able to bring to third base as a pro. And now, watching Kaepernick play quarterback, Mendonca sees many athletic moves that have translated well from the diamond to the gridiron.
"He's bringing a different athletic aspect to football," Mendonca said. "Kaepernick does it all. When he rolls out and throws across his body, it's like making the long throw from shortstop, and he can brace and load off his back leg because he made that throw in baseball."
But perhaps the greatest compliment Mendonca can give Kaepernick is that on Feb. 3, this lifelong fan of the Oakland Raiders will be rooting for the NFC champions, or at least the guy in the red and white No. 7 jersey.
"I am a die-hard Raiders fan," Mendonca said. "But any time a local guy is doing something like this, I can't help but root for him."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2150.