"Back then, I just wanted to make it to the varsity team."
In a nutshell, that's Kain Colter—former Northwestern quarterback, future NFL wide receiver and jack of all trades. He's the kind of guy that mothers and fathers dream of having their daughters bring home. He did an internship with Goldman Sachs and says most of his first NFL paycheck is either going to be put in a savings account or invested.
This is also the guy who is leading the charge to help college football players be better organized and represented in order to provide better post-career health care and benefits. Although Colter is now trying to focus on preparing for the combine, he told me that he was touched by all the support he's gotten in his fight.
Whatever you think of players' union movement, having a bright, articulate guy like Kain Colter as its public face is a smart idea.— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) January 28, 2014
Colter hasn't even reached the NFL yet, but he's taken on more responsibility and a bigger cause than many professional athletes will in their lifetime.
Whether you agree with Colter's cause or not, this is a guy you want on your football team.
Colter grew up in Boulder, Colorado, the son of Spencer Colter and nephew of Cleveland Colter. Spencer was a safety on the 1990 Colorado Buffaloes. Cleveland, as Kain says, was the "football player of the family. He was supposed to go to the league." Kain described how his uncle lined up at USC with all-time greats like Junior Seau and Mark Carrier before injuries derailed his career.
"In a way, I always felt like I had to do it for him, get to the league for him," Colter said.
The greatest influence on his life, though—even bigger than a couple of football giants—was his mom, who Colter says "sacrificed so much for me, taught me how to be caring and how to do the right thing."
The right thing seems to be a recurring theme for Colter on and off the field.
Following his dad's dismissal as Boulder High School's head football coach, Colter transferred to Cherry Creek High School, where he sought to fit in but also establish who he was early on.
"I wanted to be the hardest worker—first guy in, last guy out," Colter said.
The team went through some road bumps as it transitioned from a traditional offense to a spread attack more befitting its new best player, but it hit its stride in the playoffs. Against a local powerhouse, the coach told Colter just to get the team into field-goal position. Instead, Colter broke a few tackles and found his way into the end zone. In the next game, against Columbine High School, Colter led a masterful final drive, connecting on several long passes to set up a winning field goal.
See a moment, rise to the moment—that's the definition of a winner.
That's what Colter did at Northwestern, crediting head coach Pat Fitzgerald as teaching him even more about fighting through adversity.
"Pat’s a great head coach, not too far removed from the game," he said. "He's able to get his players motivated. I’ve learned how to fight—he’s never given up on us in any situation—and I’ve learned how to be a great leader, how to get guys motivated."
On leadership, Colter says he's a classical leader who looks to lead by example first and then get vocal.
"Honestly, I just believe that God has blessed me to be a natural-born leader," Colter said. "I’ve always seemed to rise to the occasion. I'm a two-time captain, which was rare for Northwestern. I try to do a great job leading by example. Like I said, I'm always the first one in and last one out and I try to help the young guys out. I always try to do the right thing.
"I also try to be more of a vocal leader and hold guys accountable. I'm not at all scared to call someone out."
Leadership is, of course, an essential trait for a quarterback like Colter used to be, but he's not a quarterback any longer. He's transitioning to wide receiver and believes the transition is going well. He was invited to the Senior Bowl, and although I didn't see him flash as much ability on the field as others in Mobile, he was light years ahead of last year's QB-turned-WR, Denard Robinson.
Colter said that he thinks of himself as an all-around football player but that "at heart, yeah, I’m the quarterback. There’s something about touching the ball every play, being the guy everyone looks up to."
He also noted that he wouldn't mind linking up with an offensive coordinator who wanted to use him on gadget plays, saying, "I can still sling it around."
In March, Colter will be finishing his bachelor's degree in psychology. He had originally started premed, but he realized that the time constraints of being a student-athlete (and a quarterback, no less) made the challenging course load even more daunting.
He also realized that he really enjoys figuring out what makes people tick.
Instead of a Ph.D., Colter is looking forward to the next step of his life (football) and then going back and getting his M.B.A., saying that young people should take risks and that he wants to start some kind of business.
Kain Colter the former Northwestern QB looking good as a WR convert early. Quicker than fast. Huge hands.— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) January 21, 2014
On the field, Colter says he's making the transition to receiver well, and said it's easier than playing quarterback because there's less pressure. But it is hard, he said, to know you've got to run hard every play and probably get hit.
"Yeah," Colter admits, "we ran a lot at Northwestern, but the physicality of playing receiver is another level."
Over at The Sideline View, John Harris had this to say about Colter:
He's the epitome of an old school, do-it-all player that was the heart and soul of the Northwestern Wildcats for three years...
Given his understanding of defenses from having played quarterback and his stop-and-cut-on-a-dime quickness, he's tailor made for that position. Think Randall Cobb and that's what Colter COULD be.
It's hard to know that much about Colter's eventual development at the receiver position. Every player's NFL ability involves some projection at this stage, and a position change makes this sort of voodoo in comparison. But this isn't the sort of kid you bet against.
Kain Colter/Northwestern made a few sensational catches thus far. Told he'll be used as a return specialist during the game. Very important— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) January 22, 2014
Don't draft Colter because you think he's going to revolutionize the game in some sort of slash role. Don't draft him because he's bigger, faster or stronger than his peers (he isn't and he won't be). He's got athletic talent for days, but that's not what makes a guy like Colter special.
You bet on a guy like Colter because you know he's going to do what it takes. Saying "he's a coach on the field" is an oft-used platitude, but Colter understands the game so well, it's impossible not to conjure up the canard. You bet on a guy like Colter because he's going to be first in and last out, like he always has been. You bet on a guy like Colter because he's going to contribute—you just have to find a spot for him.
You bet on Colter, because it would be idiotic to bet against him.
Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.