Adversity makes quarterbacks, and no, this is not adversity. This is a life that's too good to be true.
His high school, nestled west of San Rafael Bay, California, resembles a tropical oasis. Kids eat lunch outdoors at Marin Catholic...on leather cushions...on pristine wooden benches...covered by navy awnings.
Jared Goff glides through his old hallways with a few of his best friends just like old times, past the site of "Saladgate," right to the Class of 2013 headshots. There's Goff, grinning, bow tie 'n' all.
He walks outside. Far behind an end zone, there's a parking structure that is an architectural masterpiece. Off in the distance, behind the bleachers, is Mount Tamalpais. It's a sight straight out of National Geographic. This is the nation's 17th-richest county.
Goff shrugs and acknowledges he's never been through any chilling hardships off the field. All four of his grandparents and both parents are still alive, he notes, as are his closest friends.
He was Cal's first true freshman quarterback to start a season opener. He was drafted first overall into the NFL.
He doesn't have a blemish on his face, and his hairline isn't merely intact—his full, golden locks flow in the wind. And sure, Goff listens to Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift. What of it?
He's not like Dak Prescott, whose mom died. He's not like Derek Carr, whose infant son nearly died.
Nor is he a 199th overall pick like Tom Brady. Nor was he embarrassed nationally in a green room like Aaron Rodgers.
Goff entered the NFL unscathed, it seemed, but he was then bruised and bloodied and winless through seven starts. Now, the future of pro football in the country's second-most populated city rests on his shoulders. This 22-year-old can be the King of Los Angeles, the reason for people to care about the NFL in the land of Magic and Kobe and Kershaw and LaVar and Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. And geez, if only people would stop confusing him with Ryan Gosling. Dozens ask if he's him. He says he's not. They move on, disappointed.
With his feet now propped up on the desk of his old high school coach, Goff rubs a cold water bottle against his forehead.
Back at Marin Catholic to run his first football camp and tournament, he's asked to relive a hellish rookie season.
The first hit that comes to mind? Goff pretends to punch himself across the face: "I don't even remember who it was." Down 42-7 against Atlanta on Dec. 11, he ran for the end zone and was helicoptered at the goal line: "If I give everything I got and I get hurt, so be it." Against Seattle four days later, he never even saw Richard Sherman in his peripheral: "I'm trying to score. I was never thinking, 'OK, I'm going to get hit.'"
He was sacked 26 times in those seven losses. A human pinata. And he knows what you're thinking: that he's too soft, too overwhelmed, a kid too blinded by those L.A. lights.
So he's blunt.
Right here, the essence of Goff crystallizes. One thought, above all else, drives him play in and play out.
"I'm more afraid that people will be like, 'He's a little bitch,' than I am of truly getting hit," Goff says. "So that's what drives me to be like, 'I'm fine.' That mentality is what keeps me in the game.
"I remember going in for that touchdown [against Atlanta], knowing I'm about to get absolutely sandwiched.
"Sure enough, my chinstrap came off. My nose was bleeding."
In Year 2, he must wipe that blood away and win.
Quarterbacks are not allowed to be goofy, or fun.
You must stand at the podium and filibuster to the masses on the merits of seizing opportunities and giving 110 percent. You must conduct yourself as a buttoned-up CEO 24/7 and take yourself far too seriously.
Dabbing? A borderline misdemeanor. Barking at a teammate after a drop? Classless. Aloof after an interception? Memed for life. NFL teams make $100 million investments in you these days, so every word, every reaction to success and failure is scrutinized.
Then there's Goff, here at his camp, throwing fade routes to 10- and 11-year-olds. He wants each of them to dance after every score.
One kid does the worm. "Wow!" he yells.
One bowls the football to knock over another coach at the camp. "That's choreographed. That's a $5,000 fine!"
He's no robot, crafting an artificial image of himself. He's also no suave celeb, cutting people out of his life due to inconvenience.
Goff is who he is.
He's a prankster. When he was seven years old, in the family hot tub, Goff told his mom to look through the hole on the other end of a pool noodle. Nancy Goff didn't think twice because he was so young. Jared then proceeded to blow 100-degree water straight into her cornea.
"I thought he blew my eye out," Nancy says now. "I really thought I lost my eye."
Into high school, Jared and his pal Robbie Terheyden devised a ruthless prank on a pizza delivery man. Jared tied up his friend and stuffed him into a closet near the front door. When the pizza arrived, Robbie jolted out in nothing but his underwear and stormed through the door while screeching: "Save me! Save me! He's got me held hostage!"
This prank didn't land. The guy delivering the pizza said he was from New York City and saw this all the time.
And oh, about "Saladgate."
Goff and Co. once placed a plate of salad on top of a door hinge so when one of their friends walked through, it'd spill all over him. That friend never arrived as planned. So they took the plate down, set the plate up, took it down, set it up until...one girl walked through and the salad spilled all over her. To this day, nobody knows who exactly was the guilty party. All were punished.
Stay on alert. He's still at it. Just a few days before his camp back home, Goff found a small garter snake in his garage, put it in a cup and pretended to throw it at his mom. One problem. When he looked in the cup, the snake was gone.
"I'm like, 'Where is it?'" Mom says. "He's like, 'I don't know.'"
Dad chimes in.
"It's in the house somewhere."
The Rams see this side of Goff daily.
"He's a corny dude," receiver Pharoh Cooper says. "He's got a little cornball to him. That's just how he is."
He's loyal. Over Christmas break in college, Goff awoke to a 4 a.m. phone call. It didn't matter that he had a 6 a.m. workout in Berkeley, about 30 miles from home. When Ryan Farney, a former high school teammate, and another friend called to say they just blew $800 at a casino and didn't have enough money for their cab to take them all the way home, Goff was there within 10 minutes to pick them up at the exit where their driver had dropped them off.
And before threatening his mom with that snake, Jared asked her to walk outside on Mother's Day. Right there, with a big red bow on top, was a 2018 Audi Q5.
He's smarter than you think. The world had a laugh at Goff's expense when he said on HBO's Hard Knocks he didn't know the sun set in the west. But this wealthy kid from Novato was also the only Caucasian in an African-American Studies class at Cal. He's always challenging his mind, exploring what he doesn't know.
He's also always trying out new technology. Goff loves his drone and has gotten better at flying it since he landed it in his neighbor's pool. And somehow—his close friend Cam Croteau still has no clue how—Goff effectively hacked into the cellphones of both Croteau and one of Croteau's cousins so it seemed like they had called each other.
"Hey, what's up?"
"Hey, what's up?"
Both were confused. Goff simply listened in from his own phone and laughed.
He's authentic. Before the NFL draft, one scout, roaming the campus in disguise, approached Goff and said, "You're Jared Goff! You must be a big deal here!" to gauge his reaction. Goff told him he was simply a student at Cal.
This constellation of character traits is what has endeared Goff to teammates.
"He's a serious dude," Farney says. "But there's a side to him that's lighthearted, and that's what makes him sincere. He's the real deal. A genuine guy."
So, no, Goff is not soaking in L.A. Last year, Goff turned down all but two invitations to movie premieres. He checked out Beauty and the Beast only because his mother and sister wanted to go and Kong: Skull Island because he knew some people involved with the movie. He'll eat sushi downtown each Thursday. Other than that, he has zero plans to bask in the Hollywood limelight.
He's single and not ready to mingle. A celebrity relationship is at his fingertips, but he'll pass.
"You don't have to be the King of L.A.," Mom says, "in the way one person thinks you're the King of L.A. He'll do it his way."
Her son puts it a different way.
"Do you think Tom Brady is with Gisele [Bundchen] if he doesn't win a Super Bowl? No. There's nothing that matters if you don't win games. It's just like if you're an actor or actress or a rapper or anything. If you don't produce, people won't care."
The skepticism wasn't a shock because Mazi Moayed understands perception. Still, this predraft question from a Rams scout—Is Jared tough?—felt like more of an insult to Goff's former high school coach.
He pointed to countless plays, comebacks, hits taken, hits delivered, the 1-11 season at Cal.
"Extremely tough," Moayed says. "He's mentally and emotionally strong."
Goff, still sitting at Moayed's desk, listens to that story and assures he doesn't care about perception.
"If people think I'm soft, I don't really care. That doesn't bother me," Goff says, contradicting what he'd said moments earlier. "I know what my teammates think."
Because underneath that layer of "cornball" is a layer of grit that most outsiders miss.
He insists he's never been hurt. He doesn't know what hurt even means—he's only been injured twice (ever) in all sports. High ankle sprains. Blindside hits. He plays through everything. And Goff repeats he did not suffer a concussion on that Sherman hit despite the team announcing it as such, saying he scored higher on his post-hit concussion test than his initial baseline test.
The Rams wouldn't let him back in.
Now it sure sounds like Goff wants a piece of Sherman.
"He said I was running disrespectful," Goff says sternly. "I think he was mad, too. I kept throwing at him."
Count on seeing Goff's mean streak this season. It's inside of him. Boiling. Waiting to burst. Once, when Goff was the second baseman on Marin Catholic's baseball team, the runner in front of him was signaling pitches to the batter. Goff was livid. He told the runner, on the spot, that if he did it one more time he'd make sure a fastball was thrown directly at his rib cage.
In football, when Marin Catholic was demolishing a team, someone speared Goff in the sternum as he held the ball on an extra-point attempt.
"This rugby dude just comes in, flying headfirst—pow!—right in his chest," Moayed says. "It was totally intentional."
Goff popped up, ready to fight, and the player scurried away.
"I'm like, 'Where are you going?'" Goff says.
Moayed calls it a "Joe Coolness." He was so calm, so cool in leading his team to legendary comeback wins, but he can also "rip your heart out." Sure enough, Goff has always worn No. 16 for Joe Montana. It was his dad's idea long ago.
Ever since then, Jerry Goff has never been able to tell if his son threw four touchdowns or four picks.
"Even at Cal when it was a shitshow and with the Rams when it was tough, he's got that ability to keep it in perspective," says Dad, a former MLB player. "Of course you want to go nuts when you're not playing well and throw shit and break stuff—that's my personality—but he's different. He keeps the positive energy going in the right direction.
"At the same time, he'll carve you up if he needs to."
Because last season wasn't the first shitshow Goff encountered.
He's confident—borderline positive—he can turn the Rams around because of that first year at Cal. As the losses mounted—55-16, 49-17, 62-28—Goff was hammered. He suffered a Grade 1 shoulder separation in a 63-13 loss to Stanford, played on and wasn't forced out until another hit made it a Grade 3. "My arm was stuck," he recalls. Meanwhile, upperclassmen never seemed to care. They headed straight to bars and frat houses after games.
And it pissed Goff off.
"I'm embarrassed," Goff says. "I'm like, 'What are you guys doing going to a frat party after a game? We just got our ass kicked.' ... Seeing now, seeing some of these guys who are at Cal, the culture is so much different. I hope I had something to do with it."
He sparked a sense of accountability. Changing a culture, to Goff, is both macro and micro.
Of course, you need to deliver on the field, but it also takes doing the little things. It's gathering up everyone's wristbands after practice in high school to have them washed. Years past, sweaty bands were all tossed into a bucket after every practice, and it smelled like death. It's having "Back with a Vengeance" shirts printed after Marin Catholic lost at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum his junior year. They won the NorCal finals the next year.
Above all, Goff knows every teammate is watching his every move.
Standing on the sideline at his son's camp, Jerry Goff taps open his phone to show a side of Jared nobody saw last season. It's the aftermath of the worst hit Goff took in the preseason. Covering his entire lower back is a black bruise so big, so gory, it's something straight out of a Quentin Tarantino movie.
Cooper brought the sight up himself unsolicited. "Horrible," the receiver says with a shudder.
Translation: Goff was thrown into the exact opposite situation as Dallas' Prescott, He was handed a porous offensive line, a dearth of weaponry and no guidance. Nonetheless, there was Goff after taking seven sacks in a 44-6 flogging against Arizona, walking locker to locker.
Never forget this feeling, he told teammates. You never want to feel it again.
The Rams have endured 10 straight losing seasons. Pro football has failed, miserably, in L.A. before.
This is his greatest challenge.
"I think he embraces that. I really do," his dad says. "He hasn't said this, but he wants to prove L.A. made the right decision in giving up a bunch. That's with him every day. He wants to show the fans and the organization, You know what, you invested this much in me, I'm going to give it all back to you guys with a championship."
Goff knows the standard is different for him. It's better that way, he promises.
But it's also true a quarterback can get beaten down to the point of no return.
The Goff family sits among the fans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, right at the 50-yard line. Dad no longer tracks the ball. Instead, his eyes stay on Jared through the finish of the throw. Mom says a prayer aloud every game as her daughter asks, "Are you talking to yourself?"
Replays are the worst for her. She can hear the crunch of the hit.
And elsewhere, there's doubt. A lot of doubt.
One NFC scout, likely speaking for others, calls Goff a career backup.
"He was a slow processor," the scout says. "He took big shots. He reminds me of Blaine Gabbert early in his career, where he got hit so much you worry, 'Is he going to bounce back his next years?' ... Some of these thinly built people get fucked up. That goes back to the violence of the NFL and the physical collisions. This is a fast, physical game. With defensive lines today, there's a lot of bullets flying at you, and I just don't see the calmness; I just don't see the poise."
Which isn't what the Rams mortgaged their future to acquire. One reason they coughed up a first, two seconds and a third-round draft pick in 2016 and a first and a third in 2017 was Goff's ability to hang in the pocket for that extra split-second, wait for a receiver to make a cut and whistle a bullet on the money before getting drilled. That's what led to a 39-4 record in high school and a string of records at Cal.
As a rookie, he appeared damaged. Different. Whether Goff can recapture this poise, his best quality, may answer whether he takes L.A. or not. Sacked a combined 433 times, David Carr and Tim Couch eroded into shells of themselves.
This NFC scout looks at Goff and sees a similar demise brewing. He also sees a striking lack of presence, of that desirable mold we've all come to expect from a quarterback. He interpreted Goff's attitude as being "too cool for school," adding that he appeared "completely rattled" when news of his nine-inch hands went viral at the NFL combine.
Those closest to Goff are adamant such an opinion is wrong.
Moayed takes a look at Goff, now about 15 yards away near the field, and repeats that tough comes in different categories.
With Goff, "it's inner."
"You can't see it," Moayed says. "There's tough guys who come out of all kinds of environments. Yeah, he's GQ-smooth when you look at him. But he has the competitive toughness. I have zero doubts—zero doubts—that he'll be successful at that level."
Adds Cooper: "On the outside, you're not going to think he's tough. It's just the way he carries himself and looks, you know? But on the field, he's a tough guy."
When 250-pounders with 4.5 speed barrel down this season, Chase Forrest, one of Goff's backups at Cal, knows what'll happen.
"He's going to prevail," Forrest says. "That's what he does."
He better. Goff acknowledges he's never had a Plan B, adding, "That's not good." Since high school, it's been NFL or bust, something his parents say they didn't know. This doesn't necessarily add to the pressure of being a QB in L.A. Rather, Goff sees this as an opportunity to mold a team in his image.
Forget red carpets and lavish outfits and photo ops.
This clean slate excites Goff more than anything.
"I have an opportunity to represent this team the way I want to represent it and the way I want people to think of us," Goff says. "It's not the other way around: I'm not going to let people react to what I do. I'm going to force what I want the Rams to stand for. People say being the face of a franchise is so stressful, so hard. But I get to show you what I want our team to stand for."
The answer to that, to him, is simple.
"Not being OK with 'I lost.' No. That's not OK. You think the best teams in the league do that?
Don't you dare call him a Golden State Warriors bandwagoner. At a Novato Chick-fil-A, donning a bright-gold Dubs shirt, Goff name-drops left and right. Adonal Foyle. Speedy Claxton. Troy Murphy. Ike Diogu!
He still owns a retro J-Rich jersey. He's pals with Steve Kerr's daughter and keeps in touch with the coach himself. He went to a Warriors basketball camp at eight years old. His favorite player, easily, is Draymond Green. And he'll rip anyone who refers to Golden State as a "superteam," ranting that they built primarily through the draft. The Warriors will be the front-runners to win a championship in 2018, 2019 and probably 2020.
Goff will celebrate each title, too.
As for his own team? The expectations feel just as high: "Win the division. Once you do that, anything can happen." This year's offense under new head coach Sean McVay, he explains, is more QB-friendly. The two speak regularly and even share texts here at dinner.
And all offseason...all summer...right into Week 1 and beyond, Goff has and will set every precedent. During the spring, he was at the facility each morning at 6:30. He treats quarterbacking as parenting, blistering some teammates for mistakes (like Tyler Higbee), while still feeling out the newcomers (like new No. 1, Robert Woods).
"It's like having kids, and I'm managing all of them," Goff says. "Then your kid yells back at you. You say, 'Run your route,' and they yell back, 'Throw the ball where it needs to be!'"
Any temptations in Hollywood and any fears of this new coaching staff canning him any moment never pollute his mind. Distractions are eliminated. Goff is obsessed with one thing and one thing only: setting the standard.
"It's my team," Goff says. "I need to treat it like, 'What would Drew Brees do today? What would Brady do today?'"
Surrounded by kids and parents in the final moments of camp, Goff is barely audible. He tells them all that it's weird to see his own name on all these shirts—a bit strange considering he could be the face of an entire sport in L.A. Millions of dollars are at stake. Jobs are at stake. His own future is at stake.
For a moment, the crown appears too heavy for Goff. He's still the youngest starting quarterback in the NFL, after all.
But he knows a turning point is coming. Maybe it'll be another eyesore of a bruise. A comeback. A stern scolding of a teammate for pounding beers after a loss. Or maybe it'll be a clutch throw right at a Richard Sherman, a Patrick Peterson. At some point in 2017, Goff must assert himself when all eyes are on him.
As he walks to his car, Goff speaks as if he already knows the outcome. There's not a blip of hesitancy, let alone doubt, in his voice.
"I'm someone who's going to fight until I can't fight anymore," he says. "I'm not going to quit until they take me off the field. You have to drag me off. I only know one way. I've done it in the past. I've done it my whole life. I plan to do it with the Rams. I plan on turning things around soon—sooner than later.
"Everyone's going to see a completely different team this year."
He'll need to be the reason why.
Tyler Dunne covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @TyDunne.