With the Oregon Ducks coming off of a big win against Michigan State last week, it’d be fair to assume there may be little “hangover” as they started their match-up with final non-conference opponent, the Wyoming Cowboys. For much of the first half, those assumptions seemed to become reality-that is until Heisman hopeful, Marcus Mariota turned it up a notch and showed everyone exactly why he’s dubbed the “Flyin’ Hawaiian.”
Just over halfway into the second quarter, Oregon was struggling to find momentum. As Mariota explained, he looked to pass the ball to receiver, Keanon Lowe, but realized he had turned to block an opponent. In a split second, Mariota instinctively took off toward the end zone, running 19 yards and flipping into end zone. The crowd went wild, and a SportsCenter highlight was born.
“I’m kind of used to kind of somersaulting like that. Growing up in the water. Growing up in the ocean, I’ve had my fair share of somersaults getting pulled down by a wave or something,” Mariota said after the game. “Once I was in the air, I just kind of naturally tucked. It didn’t feel awkward or anything like that.”
Despite the incredible play, it’s safe to say his family, fans, teammates and coaches breathed a collective sigh of relief when he emerged unharmed. Teammate, Kenny Lowe, described looking up from his block to see Mariota flipping into the back of the Endzone saying,
“The first thought that went through my head was ‘did he just jump over me?’ And ‘good think I’m only 5”9’.’ I hope he never does that ever again. . . I’d rather have seen him run out of bounds and take the ball first and goal. That being said though, it was an awesome play.”
With so much on the line, including his future career, Mariota acknowledged the move earned him a warning (perhaps light-hearted) from Coach Helfrich saying, “He told me right after I got off to the sidelines to never do that again, I’ll take that as a warning.” Earlier, Coach Helfrich had already called the play tremendous however. He explained that despite the obvious desire to keep Mariota healthy, playing it safe can’t be a focus.
“The way that he plays. The dynamic nature of his play, how he likes to improvise. . . that’s one of our biggest strengths,” Helfrich said.
Perhaps what was so impactful about that big play however wasn’t just the 6 points it earned on the scoreboard. As Coach Helfrich has discussed many times, when Mariota made the decision to forgo the NFL Draft this past Spring, he gained a tremendous amount of respect from his teammates. It may have been a quick, instinctive play but that flip into the end zone clearly sent yet another message to the team that Mariota was willing to do whatever it took for the sake of the team- even if that meant taking risks with a body that’s sure to earn him millions. When asked about considering that risk, Mariota replied,
“My dad always told me that if you play with your mind, worrying or cautious, you play at half speed and end up getting yourself hurt. I’ll always take the warnings from the coaches but I’ll end up doing what I have to do.”
Moving into Pac 12 conference play next week, Mariota has definitely proven himself an even stronger leader. A leader who will selflessly do what he has to do to take his team all the way, even if it means channeling that inner body boarder and somersaulting into the end zone.