Colin Kaepernick, the QB who led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, did not come from a program considered to be a football powerhouse. Kaepernick came out the University of Nevada, then a member of the non-AQ Western Athletic Conference (WAC).
But Kaepernick isn't the only San Francisco starter from the WAC. Offensive lineman Mike Iupati came out of the University of Idaho. The standout offensive lineman was a first-round selection in the 2010 NFL draft. Although he and Kaepernick were on opposite each other for three seasons, they have much more than that in common.
Iupati, a native of American Samoa, played football at Western High School in Anaheim, California. Like Kaepernick, Iupati was overlooked by the major football powerhouses and ended up playing for the University of Idaho.
Idaho's gain was everyone else's loss because Iupati quickly distinguished himself as one of the best offensive linemen in the country. He was an absolute beast at Idaho and rarely allowed a sack.
Since joining the 49ers, Iupati has been a stalwart presence at left guard, starting in his first season.
Isaac Sopoaga, the veteran nose guard was a product of the University of Hawaii. Although his best years are behind him, Sopoaga contributed significantly to the Super Bowl run.
The Western Athletic Conference is not considered top-tier athletically, and as a result its member schools and players don't get the same media exposure as the major conferences.
Both Nevada and Hawaii have abandoned the WAC and followed Boise State to the Mountain West Conference. The Mountain West is also a non-AQ conference, but its football programs are a step up from the WAC. Idaho remains in the WAC however.
But just because the WAC and the MWC are not considered top-tier in the college football world doesn't mean that there aren't some terrific players flying under the radar at places like Nevada, Idaho and Hawaii. Kaepernick, Iupati and Sopoaga have proven that.