Cal coach Wilcox names starting QB for opener at North Texas

Cal coach Wilcox names starting QB for opener at North Texas

BERKELEY — Sam Jackson V, announced Thursday as Cal’s starting quarterback, wasn’t feeling good about things early this month as fall camp began.

So he sat down with new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital to get a road map to the starting job.

“I had a rough start to fall camp,” Jackson said. “They just told me they wanted me to play quarterback.”

Specifically, Spavital instructed the redshirt sophomore transfer from TCU to stay in the pocket, go through his progressions and make the right play. Every snap didn’t have to lead to a home run.

“That was the biggest jump I’ve made,” Jackson said. “Honestly, I was pretty uncomfortable at the beginning because I’ve really never done it.

“My high school films show me just scrambling around. I was just playing backyard football in high school. There were some growing pains with it but it’s helped me feel more confident.”

Jackson got the nod over North Carolina State transfer Ben Finley and redshirt freshman Fernando Mendoza, the team’s only quarterback who was on the roster a year ago. Coach Justin Wilcox said the competition was intense and that no decision has been made on a No. 2.

Cal quarterbacks Luke Bottari (17), Ben Finley (10) and Sam Jackson V (5) make throws during training camp at Memorial Stadium I Berkeley, Calif., on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

He also stressed that the Bears have no plans to use two quarterbacks when they open their season Sept. 2 at North Texas.

“Sam’s the starter and we want to get him out there and get him into a rhythm,” Wilcox said. “We have confidence in all those guys but Sam has earned the right to start and we’re excited to watch him grow with this opportunity.”

Jackson has thrown just six passes as a college quarterback — completing all of them — and played just one season at the position in high school. He was a wide receiver as a sophomore at Naperville Central High near Chicago, moved to quarterback as a junior then had his senior season canceled because of the pandemic.

Asked if he expects to be a better player in a couple months than he is now, Jackson was adamant.

“I think I’ll be much better,” he said. “Even from spring to fall I was much better with my pocket presence and being decisive. Most of it comes from reps just because I haven’t played that much.”

But Spavital, whose preference was having a dual-threat quarterback to operate his fast-paced spread offense, said Jackson did enough over the past couple weeks to show he is deserving of the assignment.

“I really thought the last 10 practices, roughly, I saw a light kind of click for him. I thought he did a really good job of moving the ball,” Spavital said.

Spavital noted Jackson’s play in the first of the team’s two summer scrimmages, where he converted third-down plays with runs that earned first downs. And he didn’t stop there.

“What really separated Sam was he ended up getting into the end zone probably like 15 more times than the other guys,” Spavital said.

Jackson got the news from Spavital on Tuesday, and was ecstatic.

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“Obviously, I’m very excited to hear I won the starting job,” he said. “I really appreciate the coaches for letting me build that trust with them.”

He said he phoned his father, Sam Jackson IV, and the two talked for a couple of hours.

“He was pretty excited,” Jackson said. “It’s pretty much been a long journey for us.”

Jackson said he expects his father and mother and other mentors and coaches will all make the trip to Texas in a week.

“I think I’m going to have to get a lot of tickets for the game,” he said.