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Now a sophomore, the first freshman QB to make the All-Pacific 12 first team since 1989 heads to Virginia at the helm of the No. 3 Oregon Ducks.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota led his conference last season with a 68.5 completion percentage.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota set the Pac 12 record for TD passes by a freshman and set a Ducks record for single-season rushing yards by a QB.
Friday, September 6, 2013
Marcus Mariota did not become his high school’s starting quarterback until he was a senior.
He did not have to wait that long in college.
Mariota made an impact at Oregon as a redshirt freshman last season, boosting the Ducks with his arm and his legs. The Honolulu native became the first freshman quarterback to make the All-Pacific 12 first team since Todd Marinovich in 1989.
“I wish I could take what I know now and just put it into my brain when I was in high school,” Mariota said with a laugh in a phone interview Tuesday. “The amount of lessons that I’ve learned here, … it’s been unbelievable.”
Mariota completed 230 of 336 passes for 2,677 yards with six interceptions last season, when he set the Pac 12 record for most TD passes by a freshman (32). He also was the team’s second-leading rusher, running for 752 yards (a school single-season record for a QB) and five TDs on 106 carries.
“He doesn’t have a ton of game experience under his belt. That’s what makes his ability and his potential scary,” said Oregon rookie head coach Mark Helfrich, formerly the team’s offensive coordinator.
For two years in high school, Mariota was stuck behind quarterback Jeremy Higgins, who now plays for the University of Hawaii. When Mariota succeeded Higgins as a senior, he led his team to a state title.
“It’s adversity, but you can learn from it,” Mariota said of his high school career.
He chose the Ducks of Eugene, Ore., over Washington.
“I come from a relatively small community,” said Mariota, whose third-ranked team visits Virginia on Saturday. “Eugene … is a small community. It’s very tight-knit. It just kind of reminded me a lot of home.”
Mariota helped the Ducks go 12-1 last season, but he was not the redshirt freshman QB who got the most acclaim around the country. Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M earned plenty of buzz — and the Heisman Trophy.
Mariota said he doesn’t care about whether or not he gets national attention.
“I like having a little low-key life,” he said. “I don’t live for the spotlight. That’s not who I am.”
The spotlight has found him, however. Mariota gained preseason recognition this year as a Heisman candidate.
“It’s just outside noise to me,” he said. “I’m not one for individual accolades. I’d much rather be playing in January for the national championship than have a Heisman Trophy.”
The Ducks opened the season last weekend with a 66-3 rout of FCS foe Nicholls State. Mariota completed 12 of 21 passes for 234 yards and one TD before taking the fourth quarter off.
“We have so many playmakers here that all this quarterback position really has to do is get these guys the ball,” Mariota said. “These guys can easily turn a 5-yard ‘out’ route into a 60-yard touchdown.”
He got the home crowd even more excited last weekend when he ran with the ball. Mariota rushed for 113 yards and scored on touchdown runs of 12 and 46 yards.
“It’s kind of fun when you’re running down the field and you get to score a touchdown and your teammates are all around you celebrating,” he said. “That’s a pretty cool moment.”
Now that he is in his second season as the Ducks’ starting QB, Mariota is trying to become more of a vocal leader.
“He’s a very humble kid, a very quiet kid, but has really been more assertive,” Helfrich said.
The 6-foot-4, 211-pound Mariota ranked seventh nationally in passing efficiency last season, when he led his conference in completion percentage (68.5 percent).
“He’s a smart guy,” Helfrich said. “He’s a great decision-maker. He would be good in any offense.”
He is certainly good in Oregon’s fast-paced offense. The Ducks averaged 81 offensive plays per game last season. They piled up a school-record 772 yards of total offense last weekend despite having the ball for less than 20 minutes.
“It’s a lot of fun because you play as fast as you can and you get to play a whole bunch of plays,” Mariota said.
Oregon is known not only for its prolific offense but also for its wide variety of Nike uniforms.
“I haven’t worn the same jersey [twice] since I’ve been here,” Mariota said with a laugh.
The Ducks also enjoy great facilities. This year, the team moved into a new, 145,000-square-foot building, which includes a locker room, players’ lounge and a weight room.
“It is a privilege to go out here and wear some of the nicer uniforms and be able to practice and train in some of the best facilities in the country,” Mariota said.
“It is pretty surreal. Some of this stuff only comes around once in your lifetime, so you just try to enjoy it.”
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