Zach Kline: From Elite Cal QB Recruit to Nashville Singer-Songwriter

One of the highest rated football prospects ever to play for the Golden Bears prefers being a ‘truth-teller’ in song
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Zach Kline was one of the highest-rated quarterback recruits ever to play for Cal.

Zachary Scott Kline is a singer-songwriter in Nashville.

They are the same person, yet distinct from each other. That’s the way Kline wants it. He relishes the duality -- the collaborative effort required in football and the selfish aspect of creating and presenting songs.

“The good thing for me at [age] 8, 9. 10 I was learning that division and learning that duality and really the harmony between the two things,” Kline said.

His love of music predated his rise to football excellence at San Ramon Valley High School, where he became the second-highest rated quarterback prospect in the country in 2012, according to ESPN’s recruiting rankings. He was ranked behind only Jameis Winston, who later won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman and was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. In the 16 years ESPN has been ranking college football prospects, no player who came to Cal was ranked higher on that site in a given year than Kline.

Kline never became a college football star, having the misfortune to be at Cal during a coaching change and at the same time as Jared Goff, and he never played in the NFL. But unlike virtually every other high school prospect rated as high, Kline never has visions of an NFL career. Cal, he says, was basically an academic choice, and, after several intervening stops, he got his degree from Cal.

“If you asked me then and asked me now, would I rather play in the NFL or be on the side stage at Coachella or Stagecoach [Music Festivals] or any music festival, I would choose the music festival easily,” the 27-year-old Kline said, “because that was something that spoke to me in a way that, ‘Man, this is the high that I want to ride.’ It was like a drug damn near. Wow, I can see why people commit their lives to music.”

Zachary Scott Kline can go on and on about his passion for songwriting – “truth-telling” he calls it -- spicing his narrative with enough metaphors to impress William Shakespeare. “I always wanted to be a poetic song-writer,” he says.

He plays three or four gigs a week, has participated in the Whiskey Jam sessions in Nashville and will release his first album, “Drugs, Jesus and Fireworks” this summer.

Whiskey Jam video:

Kline’s music journey began in earnest when his girlfriend (now wife) signed him up to play at an open mic in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, which also turned out to be the last stop on his football-playing expedition.

The seeds of Kline’s music career were planted by his father, who loved the blues and artists such as Muddy Waters and B.B. King. Kline began playing the guitar at age 8, formed a band as a teenager and began shouting into microphones as a punk-rock singer.

Meanwhile, his football career was taking off in the Bay Area suburb of Danville, Calif. He impressed Cal coach Jeff Tedford, and Kline committed to the Golden Bears in September of 2010, before his junior high school season. The NFL was not in his plans, but Cal fans' expectations were sky high.

He redshirted as a freshman when Zach Maynard was in his final season as the Bears’ starting quarterback, and Kline seemed to be in line to be Cal’s starter in 2013. But Tedford was fired after the 2012 season – a move that annoyed Kline – and replaced by Sonny Dykes. One of the incoming freshmen in 2013 was Jared Goff, and he and Kline competed for the starting quarterback job in Dykes' spread offense, which was dramatically different from Tedford's drop-back, pro-style attack that suited Kline and his strong arm. 

“I kind of rebelled in that way,” Kline said, “and there’s no bones about it, if they said, ‘Throw the 5-yard flat,’ I’m throwing the 15-yard out, I’m squeezing it in there. Why? Because I could. But it doesn’t happen 10 out of 10 times. You can hit the 5-yard flat 10 out of 10 times. You can hit the 15-yard out two out of 10 times, maybe five, but that’s not winning you games. It looks sexy on film, but it’s not winning you games. For me, I didn’t run the offense, and Jared did.”

Goff was named the Golden Bears’ starting quarterback as a true freshman.

Kline played well against Oregon in 2013 when monsoon-like conditions affected Goff, and Kline had a nice game in relief of Goff against Oregon State, completing 11 of 16 passes for 71 yards, two scores and one interception. There was debate about who the starting quarterback would be the following week, and The Daily Californian student newspaper suggested Kline should be the starter.

Kline met the media in the week following the Oregon game, played in pouring rain, forcing Jared Goff out and Zach Kline in. Kline was always great in interviews. (You will note he is wearing Aaron Rodgers' Cal jersey number):

Goff remained the starter throughout the 2013 season, and you know what happened to him.

But Kline’s music career remained active during that time. He played in the basement of Cal fraternity parties and loved it.

“It was a different stage than football,” he said. “Playing in front of 100,000 people was far less nerve-wracking than playing in front of 20 college kids that are fully looking at you and what you have to say. With music, you can change someone’s life.”

After the 2013 season Kline had an attempt to transfer to Oregon State aborted, and instead transferred to Butte (Junior) College, which is where Aaron Rodgers began his rise to fame. Kline then went to Indiana State, an FCS school, for two years, but didn’t play much there. He then decided to return to Cal as a non-scholarship student to get his degree, with no thought of playing football again.

Eventually, though, he went into Dykes’ office to see if the coach needed anyone on the squad, maybe a student manager or water boy or whatever, to get back into the team atmosphere.

Dykes suggested Kline come to spring practice as a quarterback, delighting Kline, who then crushed it in the 2016 spring game, going 15-for-16 for 202 yards and two touchdowns.

But when Dykes informed Kline that Davis Webb would be transferring in from Texas Tech, bringing with him the amazing statistics he had accumulated with the Red Raiders, Kline got his Cal degree and decided not to return to Cal in the fall of 2016. Instead he transferred to Fresno State, where he was the No. 2 quarterback and played in seven games, including starts in the final two games of that 1-11 season.

That figured to be the end of the line in football, until Kline made his last stand in the Canadian Football League.

He made the roster of the Edmonton Eskimos and threw a 90-yard touchdown pass on his only play in a preseason game.

However, it was the way he got on the Eskimos’ roster that serves as a perfect anecdote for Kline’s life trek. Kline tells the story here:

It was in Edmonton that Kline met the person who would become his wife, and it was she who signed Kline up to appear at an open mic at an Edmonton hangout. A number of Kline’s Eskimo teammates showed up.

“It was about 20 dudes, but it felt like 100,” Kline said.

He was hooked. His life’s path was determined, taking him to Nashville.

Kline has not forgotten Zach Kline, but he heads toward his 30’s as Zachary Scott Kline.

“To live is to suffer,” he said. “That’s the whole point of living is to suffer through it and learn from it and leave it better than when you arrived.”

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Zach Kline in 2013 in Berkeley:

Photo courtesy of Cal Athletics

Photo courtesy of Cal Athletics

Zachary Scott Kline in 2021 in Nashville:

Photo by Chelsea Rooker, Zachary Scott Kline's wife

Photo by Chelsea Rooker, Zachary Scott Kline's wife

Cover photo of Zachary Scott Kline by Chelsea Rooker (Kline’s wife)

Follow Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jakecurtis53

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