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As he continues to seek work in NFL, Colin Kaepernick has two major supporters at Washington State

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 20, 2017, 9:18 p.m.

Colin Kaepernick was a two-time Western Athletic Conference player of the year at Nevada, whose coaching staff featured current Washington State assistants Jim Mastro and Ken Wilson. (File / AP)
Colin Kaepernick was a two-time Western Athletic Conference player of the year at Nevada, whose coaching staff featured current Washington State assistants Jim Mastro and Ken Wilson. (File / AP)

PULLMAN – By and large, the National Football League has been a vastly underwhelming product two weeks into the regular season. Fans aren’t glued to their television sets like they’ve been in years past and some suggest that the college game is robbing the pro game of its thunder – what thunder still exists.

Another culprit? The sub-standard quarterback play.

It’s stoked conversation about the passers who are currently employed by the NFL – and the one who famously is not.

Colin Kaepernick is still out of work and that’s a hard pill for many to swallow, including two Washington State assistants who remain close with the ex-San Francisco 49er.

Jim Mastro firmly believes that Kaepernick belongs in the NFL. So does Ken Wilson. Both are irked that he doesn’t have a job.

“He needs to be playing and he needs to be playing in the NFL and he needs to be playing quarterback in the NFL,” Mastro said. “So hopefully it works out for him and I know wherever he goes, he’s going to do well.”

Mastro, the WSU running backs coach, spent more than a decade at the University of Nevada and was in Reno all four years of Kaepernick’s prolific college career. Cougars linebackers coach Ken Wilson was also on Chris Ault’s staff. He spent the better part of four seasons trying to contain Nevada’s dual-threat QB on the practice field, but formed a close bond with Kaepernick away from it.

Seven years removed from his senior year at Nevada, Kaepernick is now one of the most polarizing figures in pro sports since he controversially chose to kneel for the national anthem last NFL season while protesting police brutality and oppression of black people.

Kaepernick’s friends in Pullman don’t necessarily support his method of protest, but they do commend the QB for using his platform to take a stand.

“I applaud what he stands for. I don’t have to agree with it, but I applaud it,” Mastro said. “That he stands for something.”

Said Wilson: “I’ll leave that to him, that’s not my belief but I’m not going to micromanage other people’s beliefs.”

Kaepernick’s protests have potentially decimated his chances of ever playing another NFL snap.

At one point, he was deemed one of pro football’s most promising young players. At the age of 24, Kaepernick guided San Francisco to an appearance in Super Bowl XLVII, then took the club deep into the playoffs the following season before bowing out in the NFC Championship game.

Four years later, all 32 teams in the NFL have given Kaepernick a stiff arm. He’s been out of work since leaving the 49ers in March and hasn’t had so much as a bite from a pro club. Kaepernick’s numbers and production steadily dipped after the 2013 season – that’s one plausible explanation for his unemployment – but many speculate the QB is being “blackballed” by NFL front offices who don’t want to inherit the controversy now attached to him.

“I obviously think he should be a quarterback somewhere,” Wilson said. “… His family and my family are still close from his time at Nevada. I thought he was a model athlete, he was out in the community all the time, he got his degree on time. I mean he was the picture of what you should be as a college athlete and still doing great things out in the community and his own beliefs are his beliefs, but I think he should deserve a chance to play in the NFL.”

Wilson and Mastro watched Kaepernick pass for 10,098 yards and rush for another 4,112 while he was at Nevada. A two-time WAC Offensive Player of the Year, he accumulated 141 touchdowns and excelled within Ault’s Pistol offense. As a junior, Kaepernick was one of three Nevada players to rush for 1,000 yards – an NCAA first. Mastro was the running backs coach who oversaw that effort.

He calls Kaepernick’s situation “a travesty.”

“The kid’s a talented, talented quarterback. The reasons why, I’m not knowledgeable enough to know what’s going on behind the scenes,” Mastro said. “I just know he’s one of the top 15 talented quarterbacks in the league, in my opinion. He’s just got to get in a place where he’s in the right situation, but why he’s not in the league I have no idea. I just know he’s an unbelievable human being, he’s a great friend, I love him to death.”

Kaepernick isn’t short on supporters these days, but if any NFL team did decide to pull the trigger, the football ops building at WSU wouldn’t be a bad place to call for a character reference. At least two of the coaches at WSU would vouch for him.

“I mean he was the picture of what you should be as a college athlete and still doing great things out in the community,” Wilson said, “and his own beliefs are his beliefs, but I think he should deserve a chance to play in the NFL.”

The Cougars (3-0, 1-0) host Nevada (0-3, 0-0) at 3 p.m. Saturday at Martin Stadium.