In pursuit of wins, Jared Goff wants NFL talk on hold

BERKELEY -- As a sociology student at the University of California Berkeley, junior Jared Goff enjoys a life of relative anonymity. It’s rare, he says, that classmates recognize him as the quarterback of the school’s football team.

“Sometimes when they learn my name, they’ll talk to me about it,” Goff said. “But they’re more worried about splitting the atom than football.”

He likes it that way. No extra pressure. No unnecessary distractions.

He also knows, should he continue down the course he’s set, those days are numbered. It is a simple product of being widely considered one of the best quarterbacks eligible for the 2016 NFL draft. And as he enters his junior season, Goff tops the quarterback rankings of both ESPN draft analysts, Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay.

With that draft profile comes the inevitable questions about his plans for next season -- to stay or to go? -- and Goff calmly brushes them aside with the poise of an NFL veteran. He’s “got a season to play,” is focused on the “next opponent” and “restoring a winning culture to Cal.”

“I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ve got a season to play and [the NFL], honestly to god, is not in my head right now,” Goff said. “I don’t want to be a guy that came here and got a bunch of stats and didn’t win a bunch of games. I want to win games this year and let everything else like that take care of itself when this is all over.”

See? As if he were tutored by Crash Davis, Goff is fluent in “saying the right things.”

But what NFL scouts love about him is everything else. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, he has the size pro teams look for to go along with a strong, accurate arm and enough athleticism to be effective moving around the pocket. As a sophomore, he was among the most productive players in the country, throwing for 3,973 yards, 35 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Those numbers undoubtedly benefit from coordinator Tony Franklin’s offense, but to label Goff a “system quarterback” would be lazy and undercuts his talent and how well he's played -- even if it hasn’t translated into many tallies in the win column.

“I think you have to take a little of those [draft projections] with a grain of salt because if you look back at this time last year and see who the No. 1 projected picks have been -- I can remember guys who were the consensus No. 1 pick who then went on to be drafted in the sixth or seventh round,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. “[Former UCLA quarterback Brett] Hundley was a consensus first-round pick at this time last year, some thought maybe he would be the first pick in the draft.”

Instead, Hundley became somewhat of a cautionary tale about draft hype when he lasted until the fifth round, when the Green Bay Packers elected to make him former Cal star Aaron Rodgers’ understudy.

“I think it’s easy for guys to throw out names. Certainly Jared is worthy, but there’s a lot of things that have to happen between now and then for that to happen,” Dykes said. “I certainly think he has a very bright future with us and a very bright future when he’s done playing at Cal, whenever that is, and he certainly compares favorably to the guys that I’ve coached before that have gone on and played in the NFL.”

As the son of a former major league baseball player, Goff doesn't have to look far for advice on how to manage success. His father, Jerry Goff, dealt with the all the extra attention that comes with progressing toward the highest level in sports.

“I’ve got cousins in Pennsylvania now,” he joked. “That stuff comes with the territory. My dad told me about that stuff too. He went through it when he was coming up and got drafted [out of Cal] and ended up playing in the pros, the big leagues, and the same stuff happened. You just deal with it. It’s not that big of a deal. I kind of expected it."

Just not on campus. There are atoms waiting to be split.