There’s an incoming call on Garrett Safron’s phone, but he doesn’t answer. He’s busy poring over a new playbook, making notecards and preparing for the opportunity of a lifetime.
It’s the evening of May 7, and the former Santa Monica High School standout is one night’s sleep away from taking the field at Oakland Raiders rookie mini-camp. The preparation isn’t going to take care of itself.
“It’s a long journey, and it’s a business now,” he says. “They’re not here to hold your hand. It’s time for you to put in the work.”
Taking a quick break from his study session, Safron reflects on the fact that the work he’s put in over the last eight years has earned him a chance, however slight, to compete for a spot in the NFL.
After wrapping up his stellar career as quarterback at Sacramento State, he heard from Raiders quarterbacks coach Todd Downing that the franchise was potentially interested in him as a post-draft prospect.
With the help of an agent, who was also in touch with the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills about possible invitations, Safron secured a spot to try out for the team that plays just 90 miles from the university where he excelled under center.
“I was just hoping that what I did in college was enough to give me a shot at the next level,” he says.
Entering the mini-camp, where the targets of his passes would include highly touted Alabama wideout Amari Cooper, the undrafted Safron knows he’ll have to prove himself to the right people. Of course, he’s done exactly that many times before.
As an incoming ninth-grader at Samohi, Safron had spent some time on the gridiron but didn’t have any experience in tackle football. He developed into a dynamic signal-caller nonetheless, eventually earning first-team all-league honors during a senior campaign in which he threw for 2,065 yards and 17 touchdowns while completing 57 percent of his passes.
Safron was plenty capable as a basketball and baseball player, too, but as a sophomore he was inspired by then-senior quarterback Ryan Katz, who went on to play at Oregon State and San Diego State.
“I wanted to follow his footsteps,” Safron says. “I chose to focus all on football. And now I’m trying to keep it going.”
He kept it going at Sacramento State, where he carved out a phenomenal career with the Hornets despite starting out as a walk-on. As a senior he broke single-season program records for passing yards (3,490) and passing touchdowns (34), finishing his four prolific years with 9,713 yards, 86 touchdowns and a 62.5-percent completion rate.
“I’ve always had that little chip on my shoulder, going in as an underdog,” he says. “I knew if I worked hard and performed on the field that my name would pop up.”
Safron has fond memories of growing up in Santa Monica, where he attended Edison Language Academy and John Adams Middle School before playing under then-coach Travis Clark at Samohi. He still keeps in touch with childhood friends and always loves returning to Gilbert’s El Indio restaurant, where his mother, Chavela, is a manager.
But he’s not here to focus on his past. And he doesn’t want to waste time on his phone ‚Äî he has a different kind of a call to answer.
Photo credit: Bob Solorio / Sacramento State Athletics
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.