I apologize in advance; things are about to get sappy. When it comes to writing about Oregon QB, Marcus Mariota, I just can’t help it.
The Ducks have had their share of talented quarterbacks over the years, but I honestly believe this kid is the gem of them all. I know I bragged about him all last season, having just watched him on the field, and in a couple of short interviews. Now, after spending two weeks listening to him up close and personal, and watching his interactions with media and teammates, I can say this: The Ducks found a treasure in paradise. Not only is he an unbelievable football player, Marcus is also an incredibly nice guy as well.
Marcus, a Hawaiian native, stepped into the spotlight as he surprised Duck Nation at last year’s Spring Game. A year later, he’s become the well-known face of the Oregon Ducks, and become an anticipated 2014 Heisman contender. His family, teammates and coaches have described him as “humble”, “consistent”, “competitive”, “nice”, “calm, cool and collected”, “intelligent”, and “wanting to take care of people”. The list goes on and on. Sure, you’d expect some, or even most of these words to be used to describe a good quarterback, but honestly, it’s his genuine humility and kind spirit that has struck me the most. I think something I recently read, sums up his personality perfectly. According to Aaron Fentress’ article, Marcus Mariota: Focused, laid-back leader Oregon Ducks are ready to follow, Marcus’ high school coach once gave him an ultimatum. He either had to yell at his teammates more or run extra sprints. Marcus chose to run sprints.
As I’ve join the team of reporters out at Spring Practice, there is definitely a feeling that much of what is said is seemingly rehearsed, or as my husband calls it, “athlete-speak”. Many times, you can almost predict what a response will be. I definitely understand the reason behind all of that, but when a player is seemingly more genuine, it is very much appreciated. Enter Marcus Mariota. When he answers questions, he’s engaging, humble, polite, respectful and poised. He uses phrases like “blessing”, “taking one day at a time”, “they guys are working hard”, “I can always improve” and “wanting to do what’s best for the team”. Some answers are obviously well-prepared, but overall, Marcus is confident yet graceful and shows absolutely no sign of arrogance despite his amazing success.
No, I’m not done yet.
After watching Marcus talk with everyone for the last two weeks, I decided to make my move. I had to get a one-on-one impression for myself. Sorry girls, I didn’t ask him about his girlfriend. I did however check in about how his Hawaiian culture has impacted his life as a quarterback. When asked if he felt my regularly used term, “Island Finesse” was an accurate description of him, Marcus told me,
“I feel like a lot of people probably say that, so I mean that’s probably pretty accurate. I know I just kind of play how I was raised. Growing up on the island, it’s a little different, it’s a little slower and sometimes I feel like that sort of translates on the field”.
Speaking of Hawaii, I asked Marcus how he handles the homesickness that undoubtedly comes living so far from his family. I asked him if anyone in particular here in Eugene helps him through.
“I feel like all the local boys, Koa, Ava, Deforest,Wade, Mana, we all kind of had that same feel when we first came up here. We miss home. But, the biggest person I think kind of helped me along the way is my roommate Bronson. You know I kind of grew up with him. We went to high school together and so it’s kind of fun to have him by my side.”
With all those “local boys”, I imagine there are some good times off the field. I asked Marcus what we’d likely find him doing in his down time. His answer: video games and relaxing with the guys. (OK, so that first one’s probably not on our “dream guy” checklist, but I think we’ll go ahead and let that one slide).
It was just a short “chat” with our beloved QB, and honestly, it wasn’t his answers that stood out the most. What did stand out is what all the players and coaches have been saying about him all along. He has an unbelievable way of making you feel calm, respected, and comfortable. If just a couple of minutes with him had that effect on me, I can certainly see how he’s become the well-respected leader that he has. I guess a little “Island Finesse” is just what our Ducks needed.