Cal QB can’t avoid Heisman talk

Cal quarterback Jared Goff, pictured in 2014, is primed for a breakthrough season that could elevate the Golden Bears as a contender within the Pac-12. (Nam Y. Huh/AP File Photo)
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Jared Goff stands high above California’s Memorial Stadium and can see his hometown across San Francisco Bay. He can look down the other way and point to the spot he sat for his 9th birthday party and where his family had season tickets.

Heading into his junior season, Goff feels right at home at Cal.

He plays for the team he has cheered for his entire life, has his family close by and has an increased comfort in the offense and the art of quarterbacking that was missing earlier in his career.

A potential first-round pick whether he decides to go pro after this year or next and a possible postseason award candidate, Goff is ready for a breakthrough season that can return the Golden Bears to contender status in the Pac-12 after years of struggles.

“I’m trying to soak it all in,” he said. “It’s still kind of surreal.”

How much longer Goff will get to experience the college life remains to be seen. So for now, he will just enjoy all those moments he cherishes like interacting with fellow students he calls “some of the smartest people in the country,” walking the same campus his parents did and receiving the “Go Bears!” cheers each day from students eager to see a winner once again.

Goff is projected as a first-round pick if he leaves school after this season and is considered one of the top pro passing prospects in the country.

That issue remains on the backburner for Goff, who has more immediate goals of getting the Bears to a bowl game and beyond after winning just six games his first two years.

“I’m not concerned about that right now,” he said. “I need to go out here and get better every day and win games and let that stuff happen when it happens. Now is not the time to make that decision.”

Goff has strong support from his family, including his father, Jerry, who was a former big-league catcher who played 90 games for Montreal, Pittsburgh and Houston.

Jerry Goff always instilled in his son the importance of staying in the moment and having fun, lessons that haven’t changed even as the stage has gotten higher.

“His focus just needs to be on winning football games and getting better,” Jerry Goff said. “Everything else will take care of itself. Looking ahead doesn’t work in any sport, anytime, anywhere.”

So Goff tunes out talk of Heisman campaigns, draft boards and everything else that doesn’t have to do with becoming a sharper quarterback, an improved leader or a better teammate.

Top on the list for a player who remembers celebrating big wins at Memorial Stadium and the pain of tough losses as a kid in the stands is turning the Bears back into the contender they were a decade ago under coach Jeff Tedford.

The Bears bottomed out in Goff’s first year, winning just one game in the first year under coach Sonny Dykes as defections and a new system left the team outmatched most weeks.

There was significant improvement last season when Cal won five games and had a shot at being a bowl team, except for late losses to Arizona, UCLA and BYU.

“We made so many little mistakes that cost us games,” Goff said. “That happens with an inexperienced team but talent-wise, we were a six- , seven- or eight-win team if little things go our way. This year we’re not even being close to that. We want to take it to the next level and blow through the roof.”

The numbers Goff has put up in two years in the pass-happy system are staggering. He has completed 61.2 percent of his passes for 7,481 yards, 53 touchdowns and only 17 interceptions. He ranks in the top 10 in completions, yards and touchdown passes since starting college ball.

This year could be even bigger because of the increased comfort level in the offense. Most of the players have been in the system for two or three seasons, creating seamless chemistry between quarterback and receivers that will only benefit the team on the field.

Goff said he’s amazed when he looks back and realizes how much he didn’t know as a freshman, yet knows he will experience that same feeling again in a few years when he reflects on the end of his college career.

“I’ll go back and watch film from last year and see something I did that was really dumb or something,” he said. “Just little stuff that is so obvious to me now I wasn’t noticing last year. It’s just part of the maturation process when you’re a college quarterback.”

With that increased knowledge comes increased responsibility. At the start of his career, Goff usually ran the play called by coordinator Tony Franklin. Now he has the freedom to change things up at the line of scrimmage if he feels like a different play would work better against a certain defense.

That led to a more efficient offense this spring and has Cal hoping for big things this season.

“When you learn to do that as a quarterback, it allows you to execute at a higher level,” Dykes said. “The defense will try to take something away from us, and we want to be able to counter it. When your quarterback makes good decisions and gets in the right play, the offense operates at a higher level.”

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