Note: "Beyond The Gridiron," a weekly feature about the Cal football team, will appear Wednesdays throughout the 2013 season.
By Jonathan Okanes, Cal Bear Blog
BERKELEY – While most freshmen are only a few months removed from their senior prom when they arrive on a college campus, Cal quarterback Joey Mahalic had already spent five years as a professional athlete when he got to Berkeley in the summer of 2012.
Mahalic, a former star athlete at Wilson High School in Portland, Ore. was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 32nd round of the 2007 MLB Draft and spent five seasons of long bus rides to obscure cities trying to realize his dream of becoming a major-league pitcher.
After an up-and-down minor-league career, Mahalic was finally released in 2011. But he already had his next step planned out. A son of Ivy League parents, Mahalic always knew he would go to college once his baseball days were over. When it was time to do so, he chose Cal.
“Every offseason, playing football was always on my mind,” said Mahalic, a 24-year-old redshirt freshman. “I would throw the football around because it’s a lot easier on your arm than a baseball. I stayed up with my speed. It was definitely something that was always on my mind.”
Mahalic had committed to play baseball at Oregon State before deciding to turn pro after the draft. He played rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League followed by Single-A stops in Lake County (Ohio) and Kinston (North Carolina).
He said he considered schools such as Notre Dame and UCLA before deciding to come to Berkeley.
“To tell you the truth, I missed school,” said Mahalic, who has a 3.85 GPA. “I definitely wanted to go to school. I was passionate about it. I wanted to go to the best school I could. Both my parents are Ivy League people. I really wanted to learn and grow as an individual.”
Mahalic’s father, Drew, played linebacker for Notre Dame’s 1973 national championship team and then went on to play in the NFL for the San Diego Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles. He later became the only NFL player to ever graduate from Harvard Law School. Mahalic’s mother, Joan, attended Penn.
Mahalic said he actually liked football more than baseball as a kid, partly because of his dad’s NFL career.
“I always liked football more,” Mahalic said. “But my dad always wanted to be a baseball player. He really pushed me into baseball and all the opportunities that I had were more with baseball.”
As a 24-year-old redshirt freshman, Mahalic has become a big brother to some of his teammates. And it’s not just his age. The fact that he’s negotiated the bumpy road of his minor-league career gives him a unique perspective not usually found on a college football team.
“It’s awesome. He’s been around a little bit,” Cal head coach Sonny Dykes said. “I think he has a good perspective on how to handle adversity and just being patient. I think he’ll give a lot of guidance and support.
“He’s a real unsung valuable guy in our program that is probably much more valuable than people think.”
Mahalic says serving as a mentor to his teammates has been one of the highlights of his time in the program so far.
“They have shown a great amount of respect for me,” Mahalic said. “They want to know about certain situations. I have been one of the best pitchers in minor-league baseball at one point and I’ve been one of the worst pitchers. I’ve had ups and downs and everything in between. It’s been great having the younger quarterbacks come to me for advice on how to deal with this kind of pressure or this kind of mindset. It’s been great to help them.”
Mahalic’s journey through minor-league baseball and his thirst for learning only begin to characterize his personality. Mahalic has – just that – a lot of personality. Mahalic is taking an acting class at Cal and recently auditioned for a play. He also had his teammates struggling to breathe after inducing uproarious laughter with an impression of offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tony Franklin during a recent team meeting.
“That was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Cal freshman quarterback Jared Goff, who was in seventh grade when Mahalic began his professional baseball career. “He’s hilarious. But he also has a lot of maturity. He’s done so much more stuff than us and knows so much more. He gives us little tips once in a while. He’s kind of a big brother. He’s just a really, really great teammate to have around.”
*Pac-12 Networks will air a special first look of its new docu-series The DriveThursday, September 5, immediately following Arizona State’s home opener versus Sacramento State. The Driveis a 14-part docu-series offering an exclusive look inside the 2013 football season of Arizona State and Cal and their quest for the Pac-12 Championship. Visit Pac-12.com to view a clip from the first look of The Drive. Following the September 5 first look, new episodes of The Drive will debut Wednesdays at 7:00 PM PT across all seven networks all season long. Here's a preview of Thursday's first look.
*Cal’s next game is against Portland State at Memorial Stadium this Saturday, Sept. 7. The game will be televised live nationally by Pac-12 Networks with a kickoff time scheduled for 2 p.m. PT. The game can also be listened to on the Cal IMG Sports Network and flagship radio station KGO 810 AM.
*Cal is offering its season-ticket holders in all sports a special deal for the game against Portland State on Sept. 7. All season-ticket holders can buy single-game tickets for the contest for $5. Fans can get buy Cal football tickets and get details of the deal at CalBears.com or call (800) GO-BEARS.
*Cal is in the midst of a string of three straight home games to open the season that will conclude when the Golden Bears host Ohio State on Saturday, Sept. 14, 4 p.m. (FOX/KGO 810 AM). Cal will also play Pac-12 home games against Washington State on Homecoming Weekend (Oct. 5), Oregon State (Oct. 19), Arizona (Nov. 2) and USC (Nov. 9).
*For 2013 ticket information, visit CalBears.com or call (800) GO-BEARS.