I caught myself smiling as I read George Schroeder’s feature on Marcus Mariota for USA TODAY Sports last night. What Duck fan doesn’t enjoy reading some good gushing over our once-in-a-generation-talent quarterback? We adore him (in a platonic football way, of course)!
The article details both Mariota’s kindness and competitiveness through stories provided by coaches Mark Helfrich and Scott Frost, as well as teammates such as Hroniss Grasu. It also convincingly refutes one NFL scout’s implications that the Hawaiian native’s perceived shy personality may hold him back on or off the field.
“Any team that thinks he’s too nice, they don’t deserve him,” Frost told USA TODAY. “He’s come light years, especially this year. He’s our leader in every sense of the word.”
It prompted me to reflect back on Oregon’s game at Utah two weeks ago. I had the opportunity to observe Mariota at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, in-person, for hours. That wasn’t my assignment, and the game really was compelling–but I couldn’t help myself.
As I watched the redshirt junior from the sidelines during warm-up drills and from the press box during the game, I repeatedly thought to myself what Frost said to Schroeder: “Wow. That young man is the leader of this team in every way.” Aside from the fact that he’s a phenomenal player, here’s why.
Mariota focused intently alongside Jeff Lockie and Taylor Alie during the warm-up, but during a lull in action I saw Mariota approach a group of his teammates who had just entered the field. He gave each one either a hug, pat on the shoulder or smack on the helmet. Small gestures, but clearly motivating acts.
Early in the game, an official asked Mariota to move back to the sideline after he had unintentionally taken a step onto the field while Oregon’s defense was in action. Immediately afterward and multiple times throughout the rest of the game, I saw Mariota take it upon himself to remind teammates and coaches to stay behind the line. Just another example of Mariota taking responsibility for his team.
Then of course, throughout the evening, no one seemed more concerned about his injured team- mates than the quarterback. Prior to his post-game press conference, Mariota made his way through a crowd of media and football personnel to offer words of encouragement to Pharaoh Brown before the medical cart carrying the tight end left the field. It was a powerful, lasting image.
Mariota displays an ideal combination of confidence and humility, as well as a sense of awareness that enables him to exhibit acts of behind-the-scenes leadership even the strongest spotlight can miss. Watch closely; your pride as a fan will only grow.
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove