Golden boy to Golden Bear: Cal quarterback Chase Garbers on doing it all

Photo of Chase Garbers
Vanessa Lim/Senior Staff

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The noise. If a fan remembers one thing from football season, it’s the rallying cry bouncing off the stands as the Friday night lights flicker on. Being in the stadium is an almost fantastical experience that sends goosebumps up spines and shivers down backs as the hills come alive with the sound of football.

There is nothing closer to magic, as fans wring their hands in anticipation: Will they, or won’t they? Players suit up in hopes of playing the game of their lives, adorning themselves in school colors as if it were battle paint. The collective breaths held as teams funnel into the stadium prove that it’s impossible not to be on the edge of your seat, anxious and skittish as the electric atmosphere comes alive with the blow of a whistle.

All these noises and bright lights can seem almost overwhelming to even the most seasoned football viewer, unless you happen to be a certain someone who drowns out such a charged environment with the smooth and silky sound of, well, country music. The dazzling smile and “cool as a cucumber” attitude of Cal star quarterback and redshirt senior Chase Garbers could not possibly oppose the clenched fists and permanent game faces of his teammates any more than it already does.

It is almost as if he doesn’t have the entire world on his shoulders.

“I am very calm. I listen to country music before games,” Garbers said. “That’ll give you an idea of where my mind is at and how I am feeling right before kickoff. That’s how I have always been, never too emotional or tensed up or anxious. I have been doing this for quite a while.”

You can’t escape him: bus stops, posters, flyers, stickers, even calendars. Garbers’ face is seemingly plastered onto every surface imaginable, and if at any moment all the attention comes to be too much, the quarterback’s demeanor shows no signs of it.
“It’s not stressful — I wouldn’t say so,” Garbers said. “It comes with the territory of being a starter at any program at Cal or at any Division I program.”

Many athletes describe the relationship between themselves and their respective sport as a tumultuous one, a love that is strictly conditional and tethered to every single loss or misstep. Even with the ups and downs of Garbers’ college career, there is no mistaking the respect he holds for his sport.

“I love it,” he said, a genuine smile breaking out on his face. “It’s something I love, something I look forward to doing each and every day, something that I always want to improve on.”

But love isn’t just born, and like Garbers’ adoration for football, every story starts somewhere.

A true Southern California golden boy, Garbers began his football journey in Newport Beach in the same way many other major athletes do: by becoming utterly obsessed with the sport as a child. Starting at the ripe old age of 6, Garbers could be seen hopping from position to position during his Pop Warner days, but he didn’t get into quarterback until the beginning of his high school career.

Insisting he was a “normal kid” with nothing particularly “special” about the way he played or how he came to be recruited in high school, Garbers stressed that his story was very average, with nothing eye-catching.

“Nothing is out there. Nothing about me is something article-worthy,” Garbers said.

The idea of playing football came as a surprise to his family, as Garbers was usually viewed as more of a scholar than an athlete. Even though familial banter was typically restricted to game talk — with Garbers’ brother Ethan also getting into football around the same time and his father Grant having played college sports — Garbers’ intentions of playing at the collegiate level shocked his family.

“Chase was a very good student in high school,” his father said. “He liked the challenge. We pushed that early: It’s all about academics. And quite honestly, we thought that he would probably go into the Ivy League or something like that.”

However, Garbers had other plans.

Set on competing in the big leagues, his entire high school career was dedicated to ensuring a potential collegiate career.

“As soon as I got (into high school football) as a freshman, my goal was to play college football,” Garbers said.

Throughout high school, nerves were ever-present, as he began to realize that offers from schools were sprinkling in around his team. The occasional offer would be sent to a player he knew or had heard of, causing the anxious adolescent Garbers to add a stronger stride to his step and strength in his throw.

“I was like, ‘Oh jeez, this is what it’s like?’ ” Garbers laughed. “Seeing guys get offers and all that. So it really put a drive in what I wanted to do, and getting into the quarterback role, I got recruited pretty late. My junior year was when I got my first offer.”

Apparently, there was something in the Southern California air that was particularly hospitable in creating quarterbacks. As four-star recruit Chase Garbers made his way into DI football, his younger brother Ethan Garbers wasn’t so far behind, with the latter now playing for UCLA in the same position as his brother.

Many have been quick to compare the two brothers, as the Bruins and the Bears hold strong rivalries on their own, separate from the Garbers gang, and it seems that the competitive streak runs in the family.

“There’s no friendly competition between him and me,” Garbers joked. “Every time we’re back home with each other, we compete in everything, from one-on-one basketball to being on the football field or on the golf course.”

Whether it’s being compared to his brother or assuming the scapegoat position whenever Cal comes off the field clutching a loss, Garbers is no stranger to criticism.

“My dad will probably tell you that I suck,” Garbers said. “He’s the critical one in the family; he’ll say that jokingly.”

His father was astonished at the former statement, while his mother just laughed.

“No, I don’t think he sucks. I am very proud of him,” his father said matter-of-factly.

Yet his tough-love approach did wonders in creating a sense of discipline in Garbers.

“It’s how I grew up, a very disciplined child, especially being the oldest one,” Garbers said.

His discipline, founded at home with his parents and further developed at Cal, is very evident both on and off the field. Win or lose, Garbers has been thrown many a jab, whether it be about his style of play on Twitter or incessant fault-finding by sports analysts and reporters.

“I have been exposed to the media a lot, and I’ve gotten used to it at this point,” Garbers said. “So it just comes with the territory.”

With his “you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do” energy, shaking it off and acting unaffected in front of the camera is a Chase Garbers specialty — it’s customary for star quarterbacks to remain tight-lipped about team happenings — but sometimes tiny cracks have shown in his seemingly unaffected facade.

The most noteworthy example: his first game back after pandemic restrictions were loosened this season.

“I stopped, I took a look around, I wanted to take it all in. Playing a whole year with no fans in the stadium was different,” Garbers said. “Just to see people there, the noise. It was exciting to take in because you only get so many opportunities. Possibly going into my last year at Cal, I want to take every ounce of that in and cherish it.”

With the pandemic notching another year of eligibility to players’ belts, Garbers does have the option of returning for a sixth season next year. Whether he chooses to nix that for the NFL is a point of contention.

“I don’t know if I want to come back for the sixth year, so I am treating this like it is my last because it very well could be,” Garbers said. “The NFL has always been a dream of mine. Whether it’s the end of this year or next year, I do want to pursue that and see how that goes.”

“He does want to play professionally, and obviously we would support that 100%,” his father said. “He’s got to put in the time and work. I think he’s got a good opportunity.”

“We’re his biggest cheerleaders,” his mother exclaimed proudly.
Aaron Rodgers, Jared Goff, … Chase Garbers?

The last thing one would expect from a DI football player is that he would also be an economics aficionado. Wanting a player who is an ace on the field and scores A’s in the classroom is asking too much — unless you happen to play at Cal.
Garbers didn’t want to scribble through school and run to practice. He wanted to do it all.

Now, as he thinks about his future, the two starkly different worlds of academics and athletics are calling his name. If he’s not pushing himself on the football field, pushing his brother in a pickup basketball game or pushing his father in a round of golf, Garbers can be seen watching the news.

“​​I hate to say this — kind of an old guy of me coming out — but I could talk about things like the news and the economy for hours. I know that sucks to hear from a quarterback,” Garbers laughed.

Taking almost 20 units at a time during one football season, the scholar-athlete could be seen working toward his political economy degree after practice ended at 7 p.m. Scribbling and scratching late into the night, Garbers is often one to bestow words of wisdom to his younger teammates.

“Don’t do that,” Garbers winced, reflecting nostalgically on his heavy course load.

Football and school can be a challenging combination, but to the star quarterback, the need to excel at both was partially due to his uncertainty surrounding the future.

Silently, the Bears have been known to make waves in producing quarterbacks. If Cal’s recent history stands as any evidence, the blue and gold have strong precedent in sending players into the big leagues. Famously, Cal’s most prominent golden boy is Rodgers, arguably one of the best signal-callers ever. Not forgetting Goff, the previous No. 1 selection who has been on the starting line since 2016.

“I am figuring out what the next step is and whether it’s giving the NFL a shot,” Garbers said.

The Bears haven’t had a quarterback drafted since Goff, seeing as they have had the same starter since 2018. Garbers has been the main man for three long seasons, his experience making him intriguing to scouts. But does the NFL intrigue him?
“I want to play,” Garbers proclaimed, when asked about his mindset regarding playing in the NFL professionally.

Doesn’t everybody?

Whether he will play remains the question of the hour. He certainly hopes so, his parents certainly hope so and his fans certainly hope that this isn’t the final page in his football career.

As numerous football-filled chapters are added to the quarterback’s novel, it is worth noting that the story between the athlete and the sport began a long time ago, but where it ends depends on the author. Whether Garbers chooses to remain a Golden Bear or take up his golden boy status in the big leagues is entirely up to him.

Maria Khan covers men’s soccer and football. Contact her at [email protected].