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End of regulation: Cal’s Jack Plummer resets game clock

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SEPTEMBER 02, 2022

The clock hits 00:00. And for just a moment, the world stops.

The scoreboard is seemingly empty, but simultaneously filled with all the answers fans are waiting for. Yet, question upon question fills the mind of every player still among the yard lines.

From what they might eat for dinner to if they can finally sleep in tomorrow. Did they respond to their mom’s incessant texts? Is their homework done? Are they going out tonight?

Hold on. Wait. Who won?

In the space between zero and everything that follows, there are a million questions. And then one simultaneous answer.

For those of us in the bleachers — we’ll stand up, gather our things and walk away from the blinding Saturday night lights until we’ve reached a friend, a bar, our home.

We’ll post our pictures and later that night, we’ll down a beer, light a candle, finish a book. Fall asleep.

For those of us on the field, we’ll embrace our opponents, head back to the locker room and wash up with our teammates and coaches. We’ll say a few words of reflection and ride through a whirlwind of pride, regret, contentment, gratification. We’ll eat dinner with our family, and we’ll let fatigue lead us into sleep.

For all of us, we choose to continue. Because when the clock winds down and time runs out, we know that 00:00 is just another starting point. A starting point senior quarterback Jack Plummer lives and breathes by.

Once upon a time, in the idyllic city of Gilbert, Arizona, a young Plummer picked up a football and fell in love.

One of three boys, Plummer had always nurtured his athleticism, and with football, it was no different. He and his younger brother, Will Plummer, a sophomore quarterback at the University of Arizona, began their football journey with flag football before eventually upgrading to tackle.

The physicality of football was adrenaline inducing and Plummer was attracted to its theatrical nature, but on a deeper level, he loved the strategic planning the sport demands. Even at the young age of 13, Plummer understood that informing every snap, every route, every throw, are the voices of dozens of players and coaching staff, each who poured hours into analyzing film and practicing on the field.

“There’s the physical aspect of it, but there’s also a lot of strategy that gets put into the game that I think gets overlooked by the average viewer,” Plummer said. “I always love the X’s and O’s of it; I think the mental part of it has always been something that has kept me coming back.”

And true to his word, Plummer doesn’t shy away from the pressure. In fact, he invites it.

Saturday night lights, fourth quarter, 1:37 left on the clock, down by three — these are the moments that Plummer strives for.

“You get the ball at every play. You get a lot of credit if the team wins, but you also get a lot of the blame if you lose,” Plummer said. “I like to be in situations where I can have a great deal of control over the outcome of the game.”

It is refreshing, the way Plummer navigates the delicate line between responsibility, humility and confidence. He speaks plainly and simply, but in between every syllable is a distinct purposefulness that speaks to his reverence towards the sport and the position he plays.

This is something Plummer has wanted since he was a little boy, running through the thick Arizona heat with nothing but ribbons of opportunity strung along his waist. This is a dream he shared with his family. This is something he fought for.

And it shows.

But the road to success is littered with reckless boldness and adolescent immaturity, and the fifth-year senior is not one to hide behind his recent accolades. A self-described “hot-head,” Plummer acknowledges and laughs fondly at the shortcomings of his younger self.

“When you’re in freshman (year), middle school, you think you’re invincible,” Plummer said.

He remembers his volatility and his impulsiveness, and like the rest of us, he cringes.

Plummer credits his shift in mentality to his high school head coach Derek Zellner. With 20 years of teaching experience under his belt, Zellner was a guiding force in Plummer’s teenage years, not just for football, but also for adulthood.

Though adolescence and naivety is hard to grow out of, Plummer slowly but surely grew out of his characteristic “hot-headedness” and into the man and player he is today.

It all started with the Purdue Boilermakers. Well, to be more precise, it started with some courting and a little bit of luck — but if you ask Jack Plummer, he’ll point all the way back to high school.

As the quarterback for Gilbert High School, Plummer was a natural on the field.

He completed 515 of 888 passes and threw for 6913 yards and 69 touchdowns during his three seasons on the varsity football team. A threat both in the air and on the ground, Plummer also rushed for 572 yards on 250 carries, accumulating nine rushing touchdowns.

His accomplishments on the field during his senior year earned him an honorable mention for the All-USA Arizona High School Team, and he was ranked nationally as the No. 30 quarterback by ESPN.

All of that to say, Plummer is an exceptional athlete, and he carried that excellence with him as he started ruminating on which college to bring his talents to.

He tackled collegiate recruitment with a sort of calm and quiet tenacity. There was a sense of certainty surrounding him, and it gave him strength. Rather than folding under the pressure of playing perfect games, Plummer remembers focusing on maximizing his potential — something he already believed in so strongly back then.

And as it turns out, it was something his coaches believed in too.

Plummer’s high school defensive coordinator, an old teammate of the quarterback coach at Purdue, sent his films over to the Boilermakers. Impressed by Plummer’s performance, Purdue offered him an opportunity.

A big name school in a big name conference. Plummer took it.

At Purdue, Plummer was forced to reckon with the reality of playing alongside excellence. He was no longer the exception — he was the standard. And he had to prove he could raise the bar.

It was a humbling experience, competing against players who were exceptional in high school, but Plummer credits his growth as an athlete and as a teammate to the close friendships he formed with his fellow quarterbacks.

In the quarterbacks’ room, he found inspiration, motivation, triumph, competition, modesty and loss. But most importantly — Plummer found a brotherhood.

It was the brotherhood that supported him when he stepped onto the field for the first time. It was the brotherhood that carried him on their shoulders when he won his first collegiate game. And it was the brotherhood that held him close when he walked off the field with his head hung low, burdened by yet another loss.

Plummer played for the Boilermakers from 2019 to 2021. After the first two years, his regular season record stood at a disappointing 2-10, a stark contrast to the expectations following his high school success. But Plummer is candid about living through loss.

“I’ve got to hold myself to a higher standard,” Plummer said. “It’s striving for perfection but settling for excellence. You’re not going to be perfect, but that’s what you have to strive for. So just taking every play like this can determine the game.”

He’s referring to being purposeful, and it definitely showed in his art. During his last year at Purdue, Plummer started for the Boilermakers in their first four games of the season and led his team to a 3-1 record, an impressive turnaround and a testament to his ambition.

Despite the early success however, Plummer was benched in favor of Aidan O’Connell — a pain he admits he would not wish upon his enemies. Two months later, Plummer announced his decision to enter the transfer portal in November 2021.

“My time at Purdue came to an end on the field,” Plummer said of his decision to transfer to Cal. “I just wanted a chance to go somewhere else and play and be the guy for a whole year.”

Now, here he is at Berkeley.

This story begins right now, with a boy and his dreams and his quiet confidence.

Though the sport of football has existed for more than a century, Plummer has this inexplicable ability to unite both novel and nostalgic ideas. Like any athlete, he wants to win and praises Cal as a team “on the fringe of winning a lot of games.”

At the same time, Plummer stays grounded in his convictions and speaks from a place of deep-rooted maturity, providing perspective on the pressure and work that comes with his job.

“We’re not curing cancer,” Plummer said. “We’re playing football. Sometimes you can be like, ‘Oh I got to go lift again,’ but at the end of the day, you have to look at it like, ‘No, I get the privilege to go lift and be a Division I football player.’ There are bigger things in the world.”

With such a strong grasp on the nuances within football and the world beyond, Plummer understands his responsibility to teach the slightly younger Cal football team.

As the new guy in the locker room, he recognized that leadership, community and teamwork are built through authenticity and respect, so instead of trying to pretend to be the leader, he stayed true to himself.

He connected with his teammates, became “one of the guys” and established himself as a friend both on and off the field. His teammates were eager to learn, and he was willing to share.

Despite his desire to walk off the field with a victory every week, Plummer’s biggest goal this season is to give his best self and effort every gameday. He’ll compete to win and hopefully look back on the work he put in with satisfaction and peace.

Win or lose.

Cynthia Ge covers football. Contact her at [email protected].

SEPTEMBER 07, 2022

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