49ers Garoppolo ‘a handsome lad with an unbelievable future'

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SANTA CLARA – When they held Jimmy Garoppolo Day in Arlington Heights, Illinois, it came complete with a village proclamation. And so it was written on May 8, 2014 for the NFL Draft prospect: “While we know he will move on to play elsewhere in his professional career, we are proud that his home will always be Arlington Heights.”

On Sunday, he’ll get the best of both worlds: The quarterback’s first start for the 49ers will take place in Chicago, about 30 miles from his suburban hometown.

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It’ll feel like Jimmy Garoppolo Day all over again, and he expects "a ton" of family and friends for his Soldier Field debut.

"I had to put my phone away the past couple days," Garoppolo said Wednesday. "I’m trying to focus."

Garoppolo’s family is still rooted in the region, including his dad, Tony, an electrician, and his mom, Denise, a cook. Jimmy has two older brothers (Tony Jr, an architect; Mike, Niles North High’s football coach) and a younger brother (Billy, an Illinois State student).

"He comes from a great family," said Doug Millsaps, Garoppolo’s coach at Rolling Meadows High School. "That’s what separates him from the wannabes and the average leaders. He’s had a stable and humbling family life."

Those leadership traits obviously are needed by the 49ers (1-10). Although coach Kyle Shahana envisions Garoppolo as a long-term answer, he said the quarterback spot is a "week by week" case, leaving room to recall rookie C.J. Beathard there if things go askew with a youth-laden cast.

"When I told him (Tuesday about starting), I could see he was real excited, so that pumped me up even more," Shanahan said.

Shanahan hesitated on playing Garoppolo immediately after the Oct. 31 trade from the New England Patriots for a second-round pick. His new quarterback had to learn the offense’s complex language.

Millsaps had similar concerns a decade ago, when he worried whether Garoppolo could master a staple of their playbook that calls for receivers to cross at 5 and 10 yards deep.

"You’re not going to be the guy to be the first guy to mess up a play that’s worked for 20 years," Millsaps remembers telling Garoppolo. "He said, ‘Coach, you can count on me.’ ”

Garoppolo forever will remember Millsaps switching him from ouside linebacker to quarterback after his sophomore season.

"I loved defense growing up. It’s a completely different mindset from quarterback," Garoppolo said. "Coach Millsaps put me at quarterback and I think it worked out pretty well."

While back in Arlington Heights last year, Garoppolo returned to Westgate Elementary and gave an inspiring presentation on how to be proactive and think win-win. It tied into his alma mater becoming a "Leader In Me" school that mimics Stephen Covey’s "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People."

"It was really nice of him to spend time with the kids," teacher Eric "Coach K" Kirschner said. "He’s so down-to-earth. He came with his mom and said hi to everybody. It was so awesome, so cool."

A signed jersey and picture of Garoppolo can be found in the front office of Westgate Elementary. Fifth-grade teacher Paul Solarz still talks in disbelief how he used to be the quarterbacks for students at recess, which meant he was the one throwing to Garoppolo.

"He was always respectful, and he was always doing something in the gym," Kirschner said. "He was super athletic and loved to run around and play. … Whatever sport we were doing, he was above the other kids. At the same time, if he got silly, like attempting a half-court shot, he’d say, ‘Sorry, coach,’ and he meant it. He was always a respectful, nice kid."

Charlie Henry, Garoppolo’s offensive coordinator at Rolling Meadows, is just as fond of the local-boy-makes-good story.

"It’s hard to believe that, in the eight years since he was in my room watching film during lunch after practice, all the things he’s accomplished," Henry said.

Garoppolo’s success carried over to college. He ventured about three hours from home to Eastern Illinois in Charleston, and his 53 touchdown passes as a senior helped win him the Walter Payton Award, the FCS version of the Heisman Trophy.

Garoppolo still totes an Eastern Illinois backpack, rather than one from his NFL teams or a high-end fashion line. Why? "You’ve got to remember where you came from," Garoppolo responded with a proud nod to all FCS products.

Such words fall in line with how Henry remembers him.

"Knowing Jimmy and how grounded he is — his whole family is that way," Henry said. "I coached his brothers. I know his parents. They’re just very grounded people. They don’t take things for granted. They work really extremely hard."

The Garoppolo family members were diehard Bears fans before having to adopt the Patriots after the 2014 draft, which began on May 8 (see: Arlington Height’s "Jimmy Garoppolo Day") and led to his selection May 9 in the second round.

Garoppolo faced the Bears twice in New England, including a 2016 exhibition he went 16-of-21 for 181 yards and a touchdown. Midway through his rookie year, he relieved Tom Brady in a blowout win and went 3-of-3 for 22 yards; the sidebar there was Lamarr Houston tearing his own knee ligament celebrating a sack of Garoppolo.

Bears coach John Fox said Wednesday he doesn’t expect the 49ers to change their offense for Garoppolo, and he praised their Oct. 31 trade. "I thought it was a good move. It made sense," Fox said on a conference call with Bay Area media. "He’s held in high regard. It’s like the draft: time tells."

The Bears, of course, drafted quarterback Mitchell Trubisky No. 2 overall, trading up a spot with the 49ers. Trubisky is 2-5 since becoming the Bears starter.

A week before Garoppolo got drafted into the NFL, his high school hosted a celebration in his honor. There, Millsaps joked with prophetic words that still ring true: "He’s a handsome lad with an unbelievable future. And he’s going to be rich."

Garoppolo’s even-keel approach has Shanahan convinced this weekend’s homecoming won’t be fraught with distractions. "He fully understands what this business is, what his job is," Shanahan said. "I don’t think he thinks about going to Chicago to see people. I know he’s going there with one thing in mind, just like we all are."

— Beathard did not practice Wednesday because of his left knee and hip injuries, but he expects to participate in the remaining practices and suit up Sunday as Garoppolo’s backup. After starting the past five games, Beathard said he’s "disappointed" by his demotion but trusts Shanahan and will help the team and Garoppolo prepare for the Bears.

— Safety Eric Reid ended his already fragile relationship with The Players Coalition after he received a text message from Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Malcolm Jenkins — one of the organization’s leaders — asking if he and other players would end their national-anthem protests if the NFL made a reported $100 million donation to the group. Reid also objected over the coalition’s banishment of former teammate Colin Kaepernick.

— Left tackle Trent Brown (left shoulder) stretched with the team and did some early position work before leaving for individual conditioning. He missed last game.

— Running back Jeremy McNichols was promoted from the practice squad and interior lineman Tim Barnes got re-signed.