The Golden Boy: Jared Goff, a potential dark horse Heisman candidate, has a lot riding on his shoulders

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On the football field there’s just about no one smoother than Cal quarterback Jared Goff. In the shotgun, he’s poised and confident, and he makes threading pin-point passes to his receivers in double coverage look easy — almost too easy. He stays cool and collected as 300-pound defensive linemen rush at him, and he easily evades them with his quick footwork while still managing to find a target downfield for a touchdown.

On the field, he’s “the Golden Boy.” He’s the guy who carries the weight of Cal fans’ hopes and expectations on his skinny shoulders. But off the field, he’s just Jared, the 20-year-old kid who is deathly afraid of roller coasters and loves to tell jokes to make his teammates laugh — although they say they’re often laughing at his goofiness, not with him.

Goff is pretty reserved and keeps to himself off the field — almost an anti-Johnny Manziel figure — and he doesn’t seem to be the typical college quarterback with the cult of personality and legions of female followers. He has never seemed all that comfortable being in the limelight. But now, as a legitimate dark horse Heisman candidate, the spotlight on him is about to get brighter. A whole lot brighter.

Will he be ready?

A true technician with a phenomenal combination of arm strength, size and vision, Goff has drawn national attention and acclaim in the lead-up to his junior season with the Bears. It’s fun to watch Goff tear apart opposing defenses with Cal’s fast-paced offense, one of the best offenses in the country. ESPN’s draft guys are high on Goff — Todd McShay listed Goff as the top quarterback prospect in the 2016 draft, and Mel Kiper listed Goff as the best non-senior quarterback in college football.

But Goff says he isn’t worrying about any of that. When asked about the Heisman possibility, he just offers up a wry smile. Instead, he says, he’s just worrying about taking the season one game, one year at a time.

“We just need to win our first game and then our second game, and so forth,” Goff says. “In a league like the Pac-12, where every game is going to be difficult and every team is really tough, you have to just go week by week, day by day.

“I want to win. I want to win a Bowl Game — I want to win the Pac-12. I just want to win.”

His confidence has grown tremendously since he came to campus his freshman year at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds and went 1-11 (winless in the Pac-12). Now, as a junior, he’s put on 10 pounds of muscle and says he’s made the biggest jump yet in his playing ability. It’s not that he wasn’t confident before, but as a true freshman starter, he didn’t know as much as he does now.

“Freshman year, I’d force some things trying to make plays,” Goff says. Now he’s more comfortable going with what’s working.

Goff’s dad, Jerry, says he has seen his son go from a boy to a man in the past couple of years — a man who looks comfortable directing the offense and is ready to lead the team into the national spotlight.

“He’s gone from, two years ago, not knowing what’s up and what’s down to now teaching the younger guys,” Jerry Goff says. “He’s really comfortable with his surroundings. … You’re going to see some really special things from this kid.”

And while Jared Goff won’t talk about the potential accolades and the hype surrounding him, his father says that it has been the biggest compliment to his son and that it has been amazing to watch his son grow as a person as well as a player. Jerry Goff says the hype is probably more than what his son is comfortable with, because he’s a “pretty low-key kid.”

“He’s not about all the attention,” Jerry Goff says. “Gosh, he’d probably leave it more than take it.”

Jared Goff first started getting attention when he was 7 years old and played Pop Warner football. Because he was taller than all the other kids, he was stuck on the offensive line. Jerry Goff, a former major leaguer who spent one year on the Cal football team as a punter, recognized that playing on the offensive line wasn’t a fit for his son. The father and son had played catch in the backyard, so Jerry Goff knew his son had a strong arm. Jerry Goff told his son to go back and tell the coaches he wanted to play quarterback. Although the team already had one, the coaches agreed to try him out.

The next game, the team had a new quarterback: Jared Goff.

There was also a lot of attention surrounding Goff throughout high school, and his play drew interest from colleges such as Stanford, UCLA, the USC and Northwestern. For the longest time, it seemed as if there weren’t much interest from Cal, but on Goff’s junior day, he was given an offer from the Bears and a chance to go to the school that both of his parents attended.

Obviously, he accepted it.

Even after being in the public eye for such a long time, Goff still seems a bit uncomfortable with all the attention centered on him. He likes the fact that the national publicity means the team is getting the attention he thinks it deserves — he’s especially proud of his wide receivers and wants others to recognize how talented a group they are — but he doesn’t really like to talk about himself.

His dad says Goff is a “stoic” and “simple” guy with whom “what you see on Saturdays is what you get every other day.” Goff does love to laugh and have fun, but, his dad says, Goff can be quiet enough that sometimes “you don’t even know he’s there.”

The guys on the team seem to enjoy giving him a hard time, with wide receivers Bryce Treggs and Ray Hudson razzing Goff for his taste in pregame music: a combination of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry in the locker room.

“There’s a time for that, and it’s not when guys are getting ready in the locker room,” Hudson says, smiling.

Hudson laughs and says Goff has the worst taste in music — Goff’s favorite song is “Promiscuous” by Nelly Furtado, a song that reached the height of its popularity in 2006 — but Goff is allowed to pick the music at parties after the team does well. The problem with him picking the music is that he then starts dancing, and that’s something both Treggs and Hudson joke that people really don’t want to see.

The Cal quarterback, one of the only widely recognized faces across campus, is apparently also slightly awkward around the ladies. According to Treggs, if there’s a girl Goff wants to talk to, instead of him going over there and talking to her himself, he’ll ask his friends to go over to the woman and tell her that Goff wants to talk to her.

“Man, he’s so going to kill us for saying this,” Treggs laughs.

As much as his teammates love Goff off the field, they couldn’t ask for a better quarterback on it. Both Treggs and Hudson have benefited from Goff’s arm, and both think that this is the year Goff will really blow people away.

Hudson says Goff has been watching a lot more film — first one in, last one out — has more composure and is more comfortable with learning coverages and reading opposing defenses. He also has more belief in his ability to change the call at the line of scrimmage.

Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin says Goff now deeply understands every facet of the offense. And with the 10,000 hours he has probably spent working with the Bears, Goff’s hard work is about to pay off.

“His body has changed,” Franklin says. “He’s bigger, he’s stronger, he’s faster, he’s got a stronger arm … he’s got great feet. He’s really good at what we call Peyton Manning feet, typewriter feet. He finds throwing lanes. … He’s become a leader. He was a good leader last year, but he’s become an even more dynamic leader this year.”

Goff has also really worked with Franklin on his touch throws, learning when to take something off the ball, when to put something on it, when to throw the ball a little early and when to anticipate.

The improvements should be enough to continue last year’s offensive success, but that won’t mean anything without the wins to back up the huge offensive numbers. Goff has big plans for the team this year — including scoring on every drive and trying to win the Rose Bowl — and from a public perspective, the pressure is resting almost solely on him.

Now, it’s game time. The lights are on. The blue-and-gold-wearing crowd is filing in. Goff is sitting in the locker room listening to some Taylor Swift. Or maybe some Beyonce. Who knows? Across the country, scouts and football enthusiasts are turning on their TVs to watch the nationally hyped prospect play.

Goff steps onto the field. The confetti cannons go off. Everyone starts cheering and chanting his name. The lights zero in on him. He takes a deep breath and looks up. He knows there’s a lot riding on him this season.

He’s ready.

This article originally appeared here.

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