The following appears in the April issue of California Sportsman:
By Chris Cocoles
He scanned the playing field with game face on – a stern look of determination befitting an elite athlete.
It was there that Jared Goff, standout college quarterback and soon-to-be first-round pick in this month’s NFL Draft, locked in on his target, which was as usual tucked in between the obstacles standing in his way. Moments like that made him understand that the margin of error between the elation of success and dismay of failure was slight. A miscalculation here, a tiny missed adjustment there, and your status would freefall from hero to scapegoat. It’s what Goff signed up for when he accepted his place as his sport’s next best thing.
Except in this setting, Goff wasn’t surrounded by 70,000 critics in the stands, but the pressure to succeed hovering nonetheless. He wore not the blue-and-gold helmet and No. 16 jersey of his University of California Golden Bears, but a Go Wild Camo uniform. In his hands wasn’t a football but a Ruger American rifle. He wasn’t throwing to a wide receiver covered by a cornerback but taking a shot at wild pigs darting in and out of bushes and shrubbery in the foothills of Colusa County. These were the shots that were going to define this father-son hunt with dad and former Major League Baseball player Jerry Goff. Mike Pawlawski, like Jared another Cal Bear quarterback and passionate sportsman (California Sportsman, June 2014), was also on hand to film an episode of his football-themed TV show, Gridiron Outdoors.
The stage belonged to Jared Goff, the kind of spot his sport’s best thrive in. But his pigs were spooked by a previous shot and vacated the main trail.
“My heart rate’s going, the adrenaline’s flowing right now, and I’m ready to go down there and chase them, stalk them and take a shot,” Goff said on the show, which will air this month on the Outdoor Channel.
“The only shot left for the kid is a small lane that these pigs will have to cross to get back on the trail,” Pawlawski narrated.
This was a whole new end zone for the kid to cross.
FATHERS AND THEIR SONS having an athletic connection has always been part of our fascination with pro and college sports. From football’s Mannings to auto racing’s Earnhardts, basketball’s Currys and baseball’s Bonds, generations of fans both young and old are linked by these strong family ties.
The Goffs have now joined that fraternity, both with a connection to the Berkeley campus of the University of California. Jerry Goff was a baseball catcher for the Golden Bears (he also spent a year on the football team as a punter) in the mid-1980s and was a third-round selection by the Seattle Mariners in the 1986 draft. Goff was a grinder in his pro career, reaching the majors and playing 90 games for three teams (Montreal, Pittsburgh and Houston). He retired in 1996, a couple years after he and wife Nancy gave birth to their second child, a son they named Jared Thomas Goff.
Jerry’s dad grew up north of San Francisco near rural Point Reyes and was a devoted hunter, and some of Jerry’s best adolescent memories were spent with his father – not just the hunts themselves but the process of taking shooting lessons and learning hunter education. Jerry always loved to hunt deer, so taking young Jared out and stalking a buck was a goal.
“Unfortunately we were never able to do that. Times have changed a little bit too,” he says of kids of this technology-crazed era appreciating the outdoors less and less.
That’s not to suggest the Goffs didn’t experience some of Dad’s passions. Family fishing trips (Jared also has an older sister, Lauren) became regular parts of their lives.
“We’d go out in (San Francisco Bay and the Pacific) and go after sturgeon, stripers, halibut, flounder; I grew up doing that,” Jerry says. “But my favorite is stream fishing in the Sierras. Fortunately, we had an abundance of lakes around us, and that’s what Jared and I did a lot of. And I also got my daughter involved.”
But living in Marin County (Novato) was, like for most Bay Area residents, a futile challenge to find much open land to hunt. Back in Jerry’s childhood in nearby San Rafael, he and his dad had it easier to find open spaces. But these days, most of those opportunities have gone away. And even as Jerry embarked on a life in baseball and then raised a family with a new career – he’s now a firefighter with the Millbrae Fire Department – finding time to hunt and the logistics of it “became, unfortunately, more of a hassle than anything,” he says.
Pawlawski, whose show chronicles hunting and fishing trips with current or former football players and coaches, had grown close to Goff since they share a bond as Bears quarterbacks. So it was natural for everyone to put a trip together if everyone’s schedules would allow.
“Jared knew about the show and we talked about it and he expressed some interest to me at one point. And I told him I wanted to get him on the show and talked to Jerry about it and he was all for it,” says Pawlawski, Cal’s starter in the early 1990s and currently the analyst on the team’s radio broadcasts. “So we worked it out to where we could get them out there in the summer before they went to (fall) camp. And it was very intriguing to Jared.”
So Pawlawski set them up in July to hunt around the Northern California community of Maxwell, off Interstate 5 halfway between the cities of Williams and Willows.
It was good timing for Jared to get away.
“I think there was some uncertainty because he’s never really done it,” Jerry Goff says of executing the plan for Jared. “But I think it was a time for him to just decompress for three days and not have to do any football stuff. He would be able to learn kind of a new craft he’d never done, and he loves to learn new stuff (Jared did learn how to fire a shotgun previously, so he did have some experience, though this was his first hunt). He’d always talk about wanting to do it.”
And now it was all happening at game speed.
SOME OF THE BEST moments dads and their kids experience together are trying to beat each other in “friendly competition.”
“I would never let the kids beat me in anything,” Jerry recalls, “even though there were times when I’d think, ‘Crap; should I let him win?’ He’d get so mad and cry. But I’d tell him, ‘You know what? There will be a day when you’ll end up being better and stronger in whatever we do.’ If it was ping pong or pool or card games, we have competed for a long time.”
That became evident as the Goffs chirped at each other on the firing range.
“No competition here,” Pawlawski insisted.
“He’s going down,” Papa Goff said.
“He’s not going to even hit the target,” cracked the younger Goff.
The standout quarterback, who was about to be thrown back into the slow cooker of pressure he’d face that fall, had his mind not on beating (Washington State) Cougars or (Oregon State) Beavers but hunting Northern California pigs and engaging in good-natured trash talk. He was focused on success.
“If you know Jared, you know he’s a pretty low-key guy. And so I think he was, if not pretty excited, interested. Like any first-time thing you do, there’s a little trepidation in that you don’t know what you don’t know,” Pawlawski says. “He was competitive, which was awesome. That’s us as quarterbacks – we’re always competitive. But I think he was pretty pumped up to give it a shot.”
In the episode, Jared’s facial expressions were the epitome of concentration as he soaked up every nugget of advice from his more experienced hunting partners. Pawlawski got to play the role of Goff’s “coach” for this adventure, and their host, Mike Gardner of locally based Hoss Hog Hunting Adventures (530-968-5340; hosshoghunting.com), helped them find pigs in the hilly terrain.
“It was intense since it was my first time, something I had never done before. You’re talking about a pretty big adrenaline rush,” Jared Goff said in a phone interview. “I was very focused and wanted to get it right.”
“I think that’s what makes him great; he’s a learner who has his eyes and ears open. That’s what you saw and he was trying to absorb it all,” Jerry adds.
As they prepared to shoot at the range, Pawlawski compared it to the techniques and steps needed to take a snap, drop back, plant your foot and release the football.
“The same thing with the gun,” he advised Jared. “As you’re shooting, it’s going to be alignment, sight picture and then breathe and control.”
Jerry turned back the clock to his youth, when it was himself on the receiving end of shooting lessons from Jared’s grandpa. Many parents would admit that raising children happens so quickly, the diaper stage becomes senior prom before they can blink. The timing just never worked out with Jared’s love of playing (and excelling in) sports.
Now it was happening, and though he and Nancy never missed one of Jared’s three seasons’ worth of college games – in Berkeley or on the road – this was something of a family reunion that bridged three generations of traditional outdoor lifestyle passions.
“It was a lot of fun to experience that with him,” Jared Goff says.
Some of the best times the Goffs had on this trip were the stories everyone swapped at the lodge. Jerry, no stranger to being on teams of his own, compared the atmosphere – complete with the Gridiron Outdoors camera crew – to a locker room.
A few weeks later, Goff was about to report for Cal’s fall camp and embark on the most important football season of his life. This was so far away from campus, his head coach Sonny Dykes and teammates, and the throng of NFL scouts who would watch every snap of his season when it became mostly a foregone conclusion that he’d be ready to declare for the draft.
“I hope he took away from that just how great it is to be outdoors, regardless of whether you’re successful on a hunt or not. When we used to go fishing I would tell him if you don’t catch anything, it’s no big deal,” Jerry Goff says. “When you’re young you want to get a bite every time and every second you have the line out. Now he understands that’s not the objective; if it doesn’t happen that’s OK.”
These three days had nothing to do with football; it was Jared and his dad fulfilling a bucket list item that sports, work and circumstances never allowed.
“He really loved it,” Jerry says. “I was so happy to be able to spend those days with him. I’ll always remember that.”
“It brought back a lot of memories from when I was a kid – hunting with my dad – so it had come full circle.”
ONCE HE RETURNED TO his comfort zone, Kabam Field at California Memorial Stadium, Jared Goff’s status swelled from first-round hopeful to bonafide top 10 talent.
It had been a long twisting road to get here. Goff was a standout at Marin Catholic High School in Kentfield, and though he rated a four-star recruit (out of five) and had options, Cal was an easy choice as the alma mater of both his parents; plus they were football season-ticket holders.
But it wasn’t an easy beginning. Cal’s program began to struggle after a great run of success, and when Dykes took over as head coach the same fall as Goff’s arrival in 2013, he named his freshman the starting quarterback. Such a drastic decision is a rarity at that level of college football to be the No. 1 quarterback without the benefit of sitting out as a redshirt freshman.
And that first season was a disaster; the Bears went 1-11, including a winless Pac-12 Conference mark and a 63-13 wipeout by hated rival Stanford. It was statistically the worst season the football program ever had dating back to its 1886 debut. In four years of high school football, Goff’s teams lost four games total.
Still, Goff performed admirably when Cal’s defense was one of the worst in the national rankings. He established single-season school records for yards thrown (3,508) and several other categories.
He did his part, but the mental scars could have been devastating.
“It’s all about (Goff) being the stabilizing force, right?” Pawlawski says. “If your quarterback believes, then the guys around you will believe and then he started doing things that enhanced that belief.”
As Goff’s stock soared, so too did his team’s street cred after it bottomed out his freshman year. The Bears just missed a bowl berth in 2014 and finished 5-7. And last season, Cal returned to the postseason. In the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 29 in Fort Worth, Texas, Goff torched Air Force for 467 passing yards and six touchdowns in a 55-36 win.
“It was a fun three years. It was so good to be with the same guys for those three years,” Goff says. “We went out on a high note that day in Fort Worth.”
In two years that 1-11 mark became an 8-5 finale and some personal redemption. Goff’s 43 touchdown passes and 4,719 yards in 2015 established new Pac-12 season records, and he shattered 26 various school records.
“He went from a really young man to a grown man in three years,” Jerry Goff says. “That took a lot of gumption to do. He continued to get better each year. That 1-11 season was just terrible, and a lot of that fell on him. I was proud of him the way the program got better as he got better. And I think that’s going to serve him well going forward.”
Forward means the NFL, which salivates over a quarterback of Goff’s size – 6-foot-4, 215 pounds (the size of his hands, measured at 9 inches, became a subplot as he worked out for team execs at the NFL Scouting Combine in February).
But Goff’s productive stats and intangibles also make him an attractive candidate.
“I think with the hand thing, they have to find something to criticize Jared about,” Dykes told KNBR radio. “It’s certainly not going to be his character or his play. I got to see him day in and out. Having been around some good quarterbacks in the past, Jared’s a unique player, and I truly believe his best football is ahead of him. He’s a young guy (who’s) still developing.”
Mock draft projections have Goff going as high as second overall to the consistently quarterback-lacking Cleveland Browns. His favorite home team, the San Francisco 49ers, draft seventh and are another rumored landing spot. Surely someone will pick him in the first 10 to 15 selections.
He won’t be unprepared for the next chapter of his life considering the family’s lineage and his dad’s baseball background.
“I know about the ins and outs of how the professional world of sports work,” Jared says.
His life is about to change again. Whatever team drafts him will likely pin the infamous term “face of the franchise” on a player who won’t turn 22 until Oct. 14. There was pressure to win in college, but Berkeley doesn’t have the football-insane mentality that other campuses do. But for the NFL market that chooses him, he’ll instantly become one of the most recognized personalities in town. Those closest to him are confident he can handle the expectations.
“I think he’s going to be a franchise guy,” Dykes said in his radio interview with KNBR. “I think he’s going to be like a lot of young quarterbacks. There are going to be some bumpy roads and ups and downs. All of them go through that.”
Pawlawski, who spent a decade as a professional after his college career ended, says Goff is a better person than a quarterback. That’s the ultimate compliment to one’s character and integrity considering how much he’s been poked, prodded and picked apart by pro teams.
“He’s always had pretty phenomenal physical tools. But as a leader he evolved with time. He dealt with some (on-the-field) adversity, which made him mentally tougher,” Pawlawski says.
His workout at the combine was only stunted by the somewhat comical overreaction to the measurement of his hands. A few weeks later at Cal’s pro day on campus, he was impressive enough that new Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson told the local paper, the Plain-Dealer, that Goff “threw the ball tremendously.”
It’s possible Jackson was raving about his city’s new hope at quarterback.
“I think I’m just excited for it,” Goff says of the draft. “But I’m also ready to get it over with. It’s been a long process and I just want a team to fall in love with me and for me to fall in love with them. And just go from there.”
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH – four words the most successful quarterbacks embrace, grab and clutch as they live for the challenge of performing when it matters most.
His hunt was the moment of truth for one Jared Goff, especially after his dad put down a pig with a clean shot. Then it was up to the quarterback to connect.
“I felt pretty confident because I’ve shot guns before and I did pretty well when we were practicing before,” Jared recalls.
“Take one, Jared,” Pawlawski told him, but his first shot missed and several pigs scattered into the hilly brush – an incomplete pass, if you will.
“It was crazy,” Jared says. “It was early in the morning and it was just starting to get hot before they were to go bed down. We had tracked them down the hill.”
For quarterbacks, winning or losing can literally be in their hands, or at least it starts from them. “Now or never,” he said on-air, so he sensed this was his time to score another six points as a pig wandered into his sights.
“Being able to know that I did a good job was similar to throwing a touchdown pass,” he says. The first successful harvest of Jared Goff’s hunting career means he only needs 95 more to match his career touchdown throws.
The high taking that first pig earned a fist bump from Jerry. “I hope he was proud of me and pretty happy about it,” Jared says with a laugh.
When the Bears reported for fall camp, they were in for a tasty surprise.
“We donated (the meat) to a barbecue that they had for the team,” Pawlawski adds. “(Coach Dykes) said to the guys, ‘The quarterback got the pig.’”
“They were happy being able to eat some fresh pork, I guess. It sure tasted good,” Jared adds. “It was cool to know what they were eating for dinner.”
It was the culmination of a hunt the Goffs waited almost 21 years to pull together. Jerry expects he’ll have grandchildren down the line and wants his son to teach them to cherish the outdoors and be a part of their own hunts and fishing excursions.
“I hope we can do as many as we can,” Jared says. “I know I had a lot of fun that day and look forward to more great days really soon.” CS