BERKELEY -- Cal freshman Jared Goff has transformed his football video game fantasy into reality.
"I used to always create myself on 'NCAA Football' -- make myself the Cal quarterback," Goff said, describing his childhood gaming ritual. "I was always throwing for 600 yards with eight touchdowns. This year, I didn't have to do that. "
The 18-year-old from Novato made himself the Cal quarterback for real, winning the starting job over redshirt freshman Zach Kline.
And while destiny might not be why Goff will be the Bears' first true freshman quarterback to start a season opener when they host No. 22 Northwestern on Aug. 31, all roads seemingly led to this moment.
His parents, Jerry and Nancy Goff, both attended Cal, with Jerry playing one season of football under Joe Kapp and three years of baseball. Starting around age 8, Jared was part of family outings to Memorial Stadium. Among the 20 or so Cal games Jared has seen from the stands, he remembers most vividly an Oregon game in the pouring rain and Matt Barkley as a freshman quarterback for USC.
"He's never really had a choice," Jerry Goff said half-jokingly of his son's college destination.
There were other suitors, including Stanford and UCLA. Ultimately, Cal had too many of the elements that Jared Goff valued -- family ties, academics, familiarity, proximity to home.
"It was just perfect," Jared Goff said.
Goff, who's 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, put himself in position to win the quarterback job by graduating early from Marin Catholic High and enrolling at Cal in time for spring ball. But it wasn't until last Friday that new coach Sonny Dykes announced that Goff would be the starter.
"There's going to be some growing pains with this football team. Not just the quarterback, but everywhere," Dykes said. "We're the second-youngest team in the country. We expect to be successful and expect to win football games."
Accuracy, consistency and minimizing mistakes separated Goff in the quarterback duel. None of that may be more important than his ability to stay composed, which will be put to the test as the Bears face three top-25 opponents over the first month of the season.
Jerry Goff, who played catcher for parts of six seasons in the majors, says staying cool under pressure didn't come from him.
"He's wired completely differently than I was," said Jerry Goff, who spent time with the Expos, Pirates and Astros organizations. "He's able to have a short memory and have fun. There were times in my career that weren't fun. If I wasn't playing well, I got concerned, 'Am I going back to Triple-A?'
"He's not like that. He came out of the womb differently. He has a calm demeanor, and that goes a long way to what he has been able to accomplish, particularly at the position he plays."
Jared Goff acknowledged that his ability to move on from mistakes allowed him to overcome three interceptions last season against Cardinal Newman and rally his team to a playoff victory with two late touchdown passes.
"It's probably mainly because of the way my dad raised me," Goff said. "I listen to everything he says because he's been through it. Through the struggles, bad days, good days, everything in between."
Jared has no illusions about the challenges of performing on the "bigger stage." In high school, he played a couple games in front of crowds of 5,000. Against Northwestern, he will be playing in front of 50,000 and quite possibly more.
"It will feel vastly different than anything he's experienced," said Rick Neuheisel, the former UCLA quarterback and coach who now works as a broadcaster."The key is to be able to weather both the highs and lows, and it sounds like that's his personality, to stay in the now and execute the offense."
Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin believes Jerry Goff's background can provide his son valuable insight in that area.
"His dad's probably been booed ... struck out and been booed," Franklin said. "That's an experience you need to know is going to happen. The quarterback gets the best of everything, the worst of everything."
Starting left guard Jordan Rigsbee said his teammates have confidence in Goff.
"I told him even though he is just 18, everyone knows he's a good quarterback," Rigsbee said. "He's doing all the things a veteran quarterback would do. He doesn't play like a freshman."
It's no coincidence that Goff wears No. 16, the same number worn by Joe Montana, though Goff's favorite current player is former Cal star Aaron Rodgers. But it's another superstar quarterback who is the model for the Cal offense.
"A lot of what we do is styled after Peyton Manning," Franklin said, noting Manning's ability to buy time in the pocket, sliding to find an open throwing lane. Goff has a good feel for that aspect, Franklin said.
Goff said his job now is to help lead a team toward its ultimate goal: the Rose Bowl. He understands outsiders will scoff.
"You have to believe in your goal," he said. "I've heard everything: We're too young, our O-line's not good enough, our defense has too many injuries, I'm too skinny, the schedule's too tough.
"We don't listen to that. It's our team. No one knows how great we're going to be."
Year: True freshman
High school: Marin Catholic
Weight: 205 pounds
Note: Will be the first Cal true freshman quarterback to start a season opener (vs. No. 22 Northwestern on Aug. 31 at Memorial Stadium)
more college football: Stanford decides on its starting wide receivers and tight end. PAGE 6
Jared Goff started going to Cal football games at age 8. Now he's the Bears starting quarterback.