Jimmy Garoppolo is finally getting his chance to become a franchise quarterback after a nearly four-year apprenticeship.
The former Rolling Meadows High School and Eastern Illinois star will make his first start as a San Francisco 49er on Sunday against the Bears at Soldier Field. Believe it or not, he has never been to the Chicago Bears’ home field and had never set foot in any NFL stadium until he got to the league.
But, “of course,” he was a Bears fan, he said, with Brian Urlacher and Anthony Thomas jerseys.
Garoppolo spent his first 3½ seasons with the New England Patriots learning at the foot of future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady. He considers that an invaluable experience but admits he was getting a bit antsy to take what he’d learned and bring it to the playing field.
“I don’t know if I got tired,” Garoppolo said of his backup role. “I was eager to play, though. I learned from Tom. He was a great teammate — a great friend. The way he prepared week in and week out through a 16-game season and into the playoffs, it was impressive.
“Just the way he went about practice. There was a certain sense of urgency that you need to have, and he brought that every day. It kind of rubbed off on me, and that’s what I’m trying to bring here to San Francisco.”
Garoppolo got his wish to play when an Oct. 31 trade sent him to the 49ers, where he’s expected to become the face of that franchise.
“Whirlwind is a good way to describe it,” Garoppolo said of the trade. “I found out late at night, and I left early the next morning. Really didn’t even get all my stuff packed up. Grabbed a couple suitcases, and before I knew it I was in California.”
And living the dream after getting a month to digest a complicated playbook.
“Every kid has that dream of playing in the NFL,” the 26-year-old said. “But I don’t know if I truly believed it. To actually go through with it, it’s a pretty big accomplishment. I’m really happy how everything’s worked out, and hopefully it keeps going well.”
When Garoppolo was coming out of EIU in 2014, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator, and Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains was the Browns’ quarterbacks coach. They both evaluated Garoppolo thoroughly.
“The first thing that grabs your eye is he’s an impressive thrower,” Shanahan said. “He’s got a lot of quick twitch in his body, he can get rid of the ball fast and there’s a lot of zip on the ball.
“I knew he had the ability to play. When I went and worked him out, I got to meet the guy and have dinner with him. I thought he had all the intangibles it takes to be a successful quarterback in this league.”
Loggains, who also found a lot to like about Garoppolo, wasn’t surprised when Shanahan added him at the trade deadline.
“Loved his demeanor,” Loggains said. “A really intelligent guy. Quick processor. Quick-witted. Had a compact release. Could get it out quick and was accurate.”
As much as the 49ers believe Garoppolo is their future at the most important position in sports, Shanahan is careful to temper his expectations for Sunday.
“He’s definitely not going to have mastery of (the offense),” Shanahan said. “That takes a long time and a lot of reps. To me, that’s not going to be possible until next year. But he’s been here long enough where he has an idea and understanding of some of our verbiage.
“We’re making sure we put a game plan together for him. Whatever we go into that game with, he will know 100 percent of it. We’ll make sure that when we go into that game, he’s confident in everything that’s in.”
That’s perfect for the hometown kid taking the next step toward fulfilling his boyhood dream and doing it in front of friends and family.
“Coming in to the NFL you never really know what road you’re going to take or how everything’s going to work for you,” Garoppolo said. “But I’m glad how it worked out.”
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