When Jared Goff takes the field Saturday against Northwestern, he’ll be the first true freshman quarterback in school history to take the team’s first snap of the year.
But unlike everyone around him, Goff isn’t all too impressed by that fact.
“That’s cool,” he says nonchalantly. “I’m still just a football player.”
That isn’t to say he was not a little bit overwhelmed by head coach Sonny Dykes announcing his “gut-wrenching” decision to name Goff the starter for opening day and the resulting barrage of calls and texts from family and friends that followed. That also is not to say that the prospect of trotting out onto the field and leading a Division I football team in front of 65,000 fans is not a little bit intimidating for a player who has yet to take a snap at the college level.
But Goff is confident that, come game time, he won’t have any problem keeping his cool.
“He never gets too jacked up,” says his father, Jerry. “I guess it’s just the way he’s wired. And that’s the way he’s been since he was a little kid — never too excited about anything.”
Since he started playing the position at age 7, Goff has displayed a prototypical quarterback personality — a level-headed disposition and unwavering consistency.
“Nothing really seems to rattle him,” says his mother, Nancy. “In everything, not just in sports, he’s pretty even-keeled and really keeps his head all the time. His ability not to feel pressure, and yet know exactly when it’s there — I don’t think you can teach that.”
It was that mantra that earned him the varsity starting spot on Marin Catholic High School’s football team during his sophomore year. Goff would go on to lead the squad to a 12-1 record en route to winning a league championship.
Yet despite his unflappable personality, Goff admits that he knows what it feels like to get rattled. In a game during his junior year, Goff was drilled by a blitzing defender — a hit that left him unable to breathe and took him out of the game. Upon going back in, his play was erratic, as he was never able to get comfortable in the pocket — apprehensive of another jarring hit. His flustered play led to poor and rushed decisions — and three first-half interceptions.
“When I saw that on film, I was just like, ‘What am I doing? I don’t normally do stuff like that,’ ” Goff says. “The next time that happened and I got hit early in a game, I was able to be like, ‘This is just like last time. Don’t react the same way.’ ”
And he didn’t. Goff would go on to finish the season with 44 touchdowns to just four interceptions, earning him a handful of scholarship offers from Division I programs — the first coming from Cal.
Ultimately, Goff decided to forgo his last semester of high school and become a spring enrollee at UC Berkeley. And when it was announced that head coach Jeff Tedford and his staff had been fired, Goff knew it meant a fair shot at being named the starter come fall.
Throughout spring practice, the coaching staff regularly praised the touch and accuracy of his throws, as he showed maturity and poise not usually found in 18-year-old freshmen. Everything looked polished — except for the way his jersey fit his slender 6-foot-4 frame.
“I like how he holds his composure throughout the game,” says wide receiver Bryce Treggs. “He’s been doing everything that we ask of him. But the jersey that he wears on gameday has loose sleeves, so he needs to fix his jersey.”
Eight months later, he won the job.
Now the 18-year old true freshman from Kentfield, Calif., is left staring down the barrel of a brutal schedule that includes No. 22 Northwestern, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Oregon as three of his first four collegiate opponents.
But true to form, Goff isn’t intimidated. To him, it’s still just a game.
“Don’t treat it like anything else,” he says. “Don’t make the stage any bigger than it actually is. It’s just a football game.”
On paper, he may be a true freshman, but to him, that’s just an arbitrary label.
“You’re either a freshman or a football player, and I really don’t think I’m a freshman right now,” Goff says. “I’m just a football player going out there like all the other guys. That’s how you have to treat it.”
He knows he’s young. He knows he’s inexperienced. He knows he’s about to become the face of a Division I football program yearning to climb its way back into relevance. He knows that thousands of Cal fans have spent the last nine years praying for a legitimate franchise quarterback, too.
And he knows that he’s ready for it all.
“I enjoy being the leader and being the guy that people kind of look to when it hits the fan and everything goes to crap,” he says. “I’d like to be the guy that everyone looks to.”
And the freshman is making no small plans. Cal is a young team on both sides of the ball: playing under a brand new coaching staff, playing one of the toughest schedules in the country. But that isn’t going to stop Goff from setting some lofty goals.
“Our goal is the Rose Bowl — that’s what I feel like we can accomplish,” he says. “We’re good enough to do it right now. We just need to put it all together.”
After all, nothing really fazes him.
Connor Byrne covers football. Contact him at [email protected].