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LINCOLN — In his Colorado backyard growing up, Kain Colter used to throw the football, run with it and catch it.
He learned at an early age that he was comfortable with all three skills and that he could do them well.
Years later, Colter is a Northwestern junior who is still throwing it, running it and catching it — only now the yards are on the fields of the Big Ten.
“I definitely kind of pride myself on it,” Colter said of his triple-threat abilities. “Not many guys throughout football history have been able to do that, able to do that at a high level. It's been great.”
Although he's a quarterback at heart, he added receiver duties as a way to get on the field as a Northwestern freshman in 2010. And it's remained a way of life as Colter terrorizes opponents in 2012. Nebraska will try to contain one of its former recruiting targets when the Huskers visit Ryan Field for Saturday's game.
“Obviously, Kain Colter is a really good football player, and somebody I think they like as a receiver and they like as a quarterback,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “The guy has a multitude of talents, and he does a lot of really good things. They do a good job of utilizing him in a number of different ways and getting the ball in his hands.”
Colter came into this season as Northwestern's top returning passer, rusher and receiver. And he's only added to those totals in helping the Wildcats win six of their first seven games.
The 6-foot, 190-pounder from Denver has shared snaps with Trevor Siemian at quarterback, completing 70.5 percent of his passes for 432 yards. He ranks second on the team with 421 rushing yards (with eight touchdowns) and also has caught 13 passes.
Colter spends all his time in the quarterback meeting room. He said knowing the quarterback responsibilities helps all the rest take care of itself in offensive coordinator Mick McCall's system.
If you ask which position Colter favors, however, he'll be honest.
“Umm, I feel like I'm just an athlete — that's the best way to describe me,” Colter said. “But I played quarterback all my life, so if I had to choose, I'd probably choose quarterback. But God blessed me with a lot of ability, and I'm always going to do whatever they need me to do.”
Colter knows of those who have used their versatility to carve out NFL niches in the past, even if it meant giving up time at quarterback or giving up the position altogether. Kordell Stewart, Antwaan Randle El, Hines Ward.
Colter's father, Spencer, even played with Stewart at Colorado in the 1990s.
“It'd be cool to sit down and talk to some of them about their different experiences,” Kain Colter said.
To be sure, it takes a special player to do what Colter is doing right now — and not just on the physical side. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said he knew from the start that Colter could handle the mental demands as well.
Colter is a pre-med major at Northwestern. Devout in his faith. A “terrific young man to work with every day,” according to his coach.
“You knew the minute you talked to him just how talented of a person he was, or was going to become, I should say,” Fitzgerald said. “I think his talents on the field speak for themselves, but he's the full package as a young man.”
Nebraska had a chance to bring Colter into its program with its 2010 signing class after he decommitted from Stanford, which got scared off by a shoulder injury. But when Brion Carnes committed to NU the week before Colter was to visit, he realized he probably wouldn't be seen as a quarterback recruit even though a Husker offer was still on the table.
Nebraska then got an up-close look at what Colter could do last November, when Colter helped lead Northwestern to a 28-25 win in Lincoln despite an injury to quarterback Dan Persa. Colter passed for 115 yards, ran for 57 and caught three passes for 57 — and had a hand in three of the Wildcats' four touchdowns.
So Colter has the confidence of knowing he has performed against the Huskers in the past.
“But you've also got to flush that and know it's a whole different year and a whole different game, and a lot of things have changed,” he said. “You can't really base anything off last year, and you take this game as its own.”
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